It has been more than a decade since Gretchen Haase retired as a preschool teacher from Portales Preschool in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but that doesn’t diminish the loss felt from her recent passing. Haase’s six-foot frame may have been intimidating to the young children she taught if it weren’t for her giant heart and infectious smile.
Haase was the Director-Owner of Portales Preschool which she opened in 1978 and operated until 2003. The devoted mother of three was recognized as Mother of the Year in 1974 and Woman of the Year in 1975 by the American Mothers Committee.
Scooter Haase, Gretchen’s son said that his mother’s preschool eventually became one of the highest-rated preschools in New Mexico. “At one point she had the only preschool in New Mexico to obtain a silver rating from the state. There were no gold ratings that year,” he said.
Haase opened the preschool after her divorce as a way to earn an income to support herself and her children and typically had 20-25 children in her care at the center. Scooter remembers that his mom spent her days and evenings cooking for the kids at the center but says he and his siblings never felt neglected.
Stephen Hardin, a former student of Haase’s said that her actions were a lesson in themselves and that her eyes showed the love she had for her students. Hardin, who is not a teacher himself, was just two-years-old when he entered Portales Preschool, but he still remembers the impact Haase had on him.
Gillien Andersen enrolled her children in Portales when she first moved to the community. She said she will always remember Haase as someone who helped her raise her children when she had no other family to help. Anderson said she always felt safe leaving her children with Haase and for that she is eternally grateful.
Haase will long be remembered as Albuquerque’s BFG or “big, friendly giant.”