GRACE HUDOWALSKI's life and career was shaped at an early age by her parents' north country values, commitment to family, faith, service, honesty, independence, dedication, humility and perseverance. Grace found comfort, solace and spiritual strength in the mountains that surrounded her and, as she grew from child to adult, her definition of family expanded rapidly to include, not just the persons to whom she was related by blood and marriage, but to the people with whom she shared a love for mountains and wilderness. Her climbing family grew rapidly as 20th Century advances in transportation and communications opened the Adirondacks to the world.
Born Grace Dolbeck Leach in Ticonderoga, New York, on February 25, 1906, Grace was the youngest daughter and sixth child of Alice Luella Dolbeck and James Casper Leach, who had carved out a life on the shores of Lake George at Hague. Grace learned at an early age the difficulties of life, experiencing the death of her mother at age 11, an experience that reinforced Grace's faith and commitment to the church. When she was 14, Grace's father, a successful businessman and respected sportsman, changed careers and leased the Mountain View Hotel in Minerva, moving his family from the shores of Lake George deeper into the wilds of the Adirondacks, in the very shadow of the high peaks that would very soon capture Grace's imagination and ignite her passion for mountains and mountain climbing. Recognizing the growing interest of city-dwellers in wilderness recreationt, James Leach took advantage of the abundant fish and game of the Adirondacks, announcing plans to expand the hotel, adding electricity and catering to the growing interests of sportsman and outdoor recreationists of the day. He could hardly have imagined how profoundly his entrepreneurial drive and promotion of wilderness recreation would imprint upon and define the future of his youngest daughter.
After her father's move to Minerva, Grace was sent to Troy, New York to live with her sister Nora Sproule, and attend high school. During her summer recess in 1922, at the still tender age of 16, Grace encountered the first of the two great and lasting loves of her life, a mountain named Marcy when she was invited to join a three day climb of Mt. Marcy with some local young people. Years later, in a promotion piece published to encourage mountain climbing in New York State, Grace fondly recounted what for her became a life changing experience on the summit of the State's highest peak.
It was 1922, Dad had taken the Mountain View House in Minerva. With school over . . . I, too, went north where I was promptly invited to join a three-day safari to Marcy via the old Iron Works. My blanket roll was ready days ahead of time and I was continually slinging it over my shoulder to get the feel of it. My voluminous bloomers were carefully pressed; my middy blouse, complete with the large red square of a tie (twice the size of today’s kerchief), hung in readiness on a hanger.
As Grace approached her graduation from high school, her passion for the Adirondacks and mountains combined with another developing interest, writing and her first combination of the two produced the class song for Troy High School Class of 1924.
Shortly after graduation Grace met, as she would fondly describe him, a young Polish chap from New Jersey, Edward Hudowalski, who was an engineering student at RPI. Grace captivated Ed immediately and asked Grace to elope during their first date. Grace declined, at first, scolding Ed that such a proposal was premature, his studies needed to be finished before any thought was given to marriage. Nevertheless, Ed must have been very persuasive, because they were married eleven months later, and despite the distraction of marriage, Ed completed his studies and graduated. Little did he know then that Grace would lead him to the mountains, with which he would become equally enthralled.
Ed and Grace Hudowalski's entrance into the annals of Adirondack history would seem in hindsight to have been inevitable. Grace would often chuckle when telling an audience how she goaded Ed into climbing his first peak and how he had gone on a trip to Marcy with his church Sunday School class to "shut her up". Nevertheless, once he experienced Marcy's view, Ed was smitten not only with Grace, but with the high peaks as well.
The handsome couple combined their love of mountains with that of their pastor at Grace Methodist Church, Rev. Ernest Ryder, and together they passed the mountain spirit throughout the congregation. As the burgeoning group read everything they could about the Adirondack mountains they learned of the intrepid Marshall brothers, Bob and George, who with family friend and guide Herb Clark had climbed all of the Adirondack summits over 4,000 feet, 46 in total. Before long the group had a goal, to joun the Marshalls and Clark and formed a group which Ryder aptly named the 46rs of Troy. Ryder and Ed became regular climbing companions and reached the summit of their 46th summit, Dix, with Grace and climbing friends, September 13, 1936. The group organized as the 46rs of Troy in February 1937 and six months later, Grace joined the membership, becoming the the ninth 46er, and the first woman. Grace selected her final summit with care, completing her 46 on Esther Mountain, the only high peak commemorating a woman.
The 46rs of Troy adopted by-laws and required that its members climb at least one major summit annually and, again demonstrating Grace's influence, report on the climb to the membership. But as the nascent group was just getting on its feet, WWII swept many of its young members to distant lands in service to their country. Those who remained at home put their lofty climbing ambitions
Dad was too good an outdoorsman to let me go in the woods without the facts of life. I was, therefore, told to 'walk softly and reverently, to do my share and a little more,' and to 'be cheerful, no one wants a grouch around.' 'The last pull up Marcy is tough,' Dad concluded. 'it is not important whether you reach the top of the mountain, but it is important how you make the climb'.
The trip in to Lake Colden was perfect. The wonder of it thrilled me beyond words and the added delight of that incomparable view of Mt. Colden from Flowed Lands took my breath away. The rains which descended during the night failed to dampen my spirits and I as on my way up the muddy trail early the next morning, reveling in the cascading Opalescent rushing down the mountain alongside our path. We were all pretty wet when we paused in the old Feldspar Leanto for a breather. From here on the trail became steadily worse. . . .[W]e caught up with blackflies which have a way of getting in eyes, ears and down gasping throats. The trail was steeper and muddier and we often took one step to slide back three. We were tired and wet and hungry, and all of a sudden Dad’s famous last words ran through my mind: 'It is not important whether you reach the top of the mountain, but it is important how you make the climb'. While I may have wondered what he meant I certainly had no time to speculate.
At Four Corners while we ate before a sputtering, useless fire and discussed plans, I was faced with three alternatives: I could wait while the rest went on (too cold for that!); I could retrace my steps down the mountain: ('it is not important whether you reach the top . . .'); or I could go on: (. . . but how . . .!). Without realizing it I was face to face with a fundamental of life. I chose to go on.
It was tough. I was on all fours sometimes. I didn’t think I was going to get there. But I had to get to the top – there was some reason. God knows what it was but I had to go on. And on the top just for a fraction of a moment, the clouds lifted while I was there and I looked down and there a mile below me was Lake Tear of the Clouds, the Hudson’s highest source. And you know, that did something to me. I had seen something – I felt it. I never forgot the mountain and I never forgot that trip.
pretty much on hold, recreation being hampered by war rationing and austerity. Ed's engineering skills were needed in
the war effort and he was whisked away to service in Africa, Europe and then Asia for the balance of the war years. Grace took up residence in the mansion of sculptor, suffrigist, and animal rights advocate Alice Morgan Wright in Albany to await Ed's return.
While Ed was away fighting in the war, Grace turned her interest in writing and storytelling, first developed in high school, into a career. After high school Grace had enrolled in evening classes in creative writing and public speaking, and for years before WWII she had honed her speaking abilities through leadership in various ecumenical and church organizations, as well as editor for the Cloud Splitter, the newsletter of the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, which Ed and Grace had joined in 1937.
Grace's interest in writing and telling yarns blossomed into a career, and a job with the New York State Commerce Department where, in the spring of 1945, she was hired as a publicity writer, preparing travel releases highlighting the folklore and history of the state. “[If] I was to sell travel, the easiest way was to sell it by telling about the people who lived and loved and worked here,” she explained. Grace was promoted to Travel Promotion Supervisor when the Travel Bureau was created in 1948, a position she held until her retirement in 1961. Representing the state at travel shows throughout the United States and Canada, Grace spoke regularly on radio and television programs across the country. Her boss, Joseph R. Horan, director of the Travel Bureau, referred to her as “a super-saleswoman for New York State.” Grace worked closely with local chambers of commerce and regional resort associations throughout the state in designing year-round travel promotion programs and promoted state tourism at travel shows across the United States. Grace became a favorite guest speaker at service clubs, women’s organizations, church groups, sportsmen’s clubs and youth groups, not just during her career with the state but well beyond. Many of the human-interest news releases that Grace wrote about tourist destinations across the state focused on some aspect of the Adirondack region. Several, including the 20 page vacation booklet, The Adirondack Experience, which Grace authored for the Adirondack Park Association following her retirement from the State, highlighted Adirondack attractions, outdoor recreation and, of course, the Adirondack high peaks and the Forty-Sixers. Grace used her expertise in public relations and her contacts around the state to invite hiking clubs and government officials to participate in the centennial climb to the summit of Mt. Haystack on August 20, 1949, to commemorate the first known ascent of that mountain. “My job is even more enjoyable since it is the outgrowth of my hobby,” she once said. In her local area, Grace was featured on a weekly broadcast heard on radio station WGY in Schenectady. An expert on folklore, she presented a regional history program on public television station WMHT in Schenectady and was a much acclaimed and sought after public speaker during the 1950s and 1960s. She went on to become the President of the NewYork State Folklore Society When Ed returned from the war in 1947 he returned to state employment in the Department of Public Works as an electrical engineer, rising through the ranks to the position of Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Public Works and chief engineer for the NY State Canal System.
Ed and Grace’s love of the mountains beckoned them north from Albany often and they bought a summer home on the eastern shore of Schroon Lake in 1954. The camp, which they called Boulders, bringing the couple closer to the area to which they had such strong personal connections. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Ed and Grace worked together to promote the Adirondacks and were active in public policy issues that affected the region. Ed, in particular, was very vocal in the debate during the late 1950s over the placement of the Northway (I-87) through the Adirondack Park. The couple’s affection for Grace’s native Adirondack people extended to philanthropy, and she and Ed sponsored an annual folklore writing contest for eleventh grade students in the Schroon Lake Central School from 1957 through the mid-1980s. The purpose of the contest was “to uncover early history and folktales of the Town of Schroon and adjacent townships (North Hudson, Minerva, Chester, Ticonderoga, Crown Point).” The essay winners were awarded $50 U.S. Savings Bonds that Grace and Ed donated, and their essays were considered for publication in New York State Folklore and North Country Life magazines. Ed died unexpectedly at the couple’s home in Albany on September 30, 1966, three days before his official retirement from state service, at the age of 62. Following Ed’s death, Boulders became Grace’s haven in the mountains. Summers were spent at Boulders and each October she would pack up and return to Albany to await the arrival of spring.
After Ed’s sudden and unexpected death in 1966, Grace continued to devote her talents and energy to promoting the exploration of New York State and in particular the Adirondack Mountains, a passion she pursued until her own death March 13, 2004 at the age of 98.
In her letters she took on the roles of compassionate mother (although she and Ed never had any children), stern teacher, loyal companion, spirited cheerleader, and sage philosopher. In recounting their climbs, hikers shared with her not only the stories of their adventures but also the highlights of their lives. News of marriages, divorces, births, deaths, illnesses, and job changes were related with frequency and with the familiarity and comfort of old friends. Grace in turn shared her sympathetic ear, her encyclopedic knowledge of Adirondack history, accounts of her personal hiking experiences, and her life wisdom.
For over 60 years Grace was the guiding spirit and the very embodiment of the Forty-Sixer experience. She encouraged letter-writing and wrote thousands of replies – as many as 2,000 per year for several years – to those hikers who were reporting their climbs of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. The Forty-Sixers she guided through the high peaks she come to know so well became her very extended family.
Grace's enthusiasm for her native Adirondacks extended far beyond her involvement with the 46ers. She was active throughout her life in her church and ecumenical groups as well as in a multitude of regional and community organizations. She served as executive secretary for the Adirondack North Country Association (formerly the Adirondack Park Association) for 21 years, writing brochures, press releases, and other informational pieces. In the 1980's Grace was a moving force in ANCA's efforts to commemorate the Presidency of Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, an expression of Grace's enthusiasm for all things New York. Grace loves the story of Teddy Roosevelt' rough buckboard ride to the presidency and she jumped at the opportunity to tell his story. It was Grace's enthusiasm for the human story, more than anything else, that drew people to her. And one of her favorite and most memorable tales was the story of "Jed", which she told over and over and included on one of the many promotional pieces she helped prepare for ANCA. Jed Rosman's story is Grace's story. Like Jed, Grace held many a hand as they explored the Adirondacks.
If there is one characteristic that defines Grace Hudowalski's life and her legacy it is the "can do" attitude she exhibited in everything she did, now matter how difficult the task, no matter what life threw at her, Grace persevered. Optimism was a lesson she learned as a young school girl when she complained to her elder sister, Nora, that she "couldn't" do well in her studies. Nora, a teacher who years later would follow her youngest sister's path to become a 46er, eesponded, "Grace . . . can’t’ never did nothing!" From that point on Grace removed the word "can't" from her vocabulary. She could, and she did. And she encouraged others to approach life with the same optimism, perseverance, sense of community, and above all . . . faith.
In January, 2004, as her health began to fail, Grace received word that the Adirondack Mountain Club, at its annual banquet on March 13, 2004, intended to award Grace its highest honor, the Trail Blazer Award. Grace passed on to her "celestial hills" before the award could be publicly presented. She died that very morning at a little after 9:00 a.m. surrounded by her dearest friends.
An active member of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Inc., she was contributing editor of its publications, High Spots and Adirondac, and editor of the Albany Chapter’s newsletter The Cloud Splitter. She was also a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and a president of the New York Folklore Society.
ANCA too honored Grace in a Resolution adopted five days after her death, recognizing Grace for her commitment to working toward the sustained economic future, conservation and community interests of the Adirondack Park."
The New York State Legislature recognized Grace in 1986 for her years of dedicated service to the state and to the Adirondacks in a joint Resolution. Over the years more and more resolutions followed commending Grace and raising her as an example to follow not just in the high peaks, but throughout life.
Over the course of her life Grace had been recognized time and again by the 46ers for her service to the organization and her extraordinary correspondence and record-keeping for the club, together with the almost cult-like adoration 46ers expressed for Grace made her the subject of frequent news stories. Ultimately, one of those stories found its way to young movie director and producer, Fred Schoebel, who was so taken by Grace's story he funded a trip to New York from his home in Portland to meet Grace and to spend several days filming her for a documentary. Twenty years later, in 2013, that documentary was released to great enthusiasm by audiences across New York State and as far distant as Portland. Just as Grace and the 46er experience had drawn climbers from across the country, Fred's film, The Mountains Will Wait For You , has drawn audiences across the nation to embrace Grace's message.
Above - Grace with her Mother at age 4.
Below, Grace's Father James and stepmother.
Grace was interested in hearing people’s stories: what happened and why it happened. She said that she “sold New York State with its stories” in her job with the Commerce Department, and she extended that passion for history and for the tales behind events, places, and people to her work with the Forty-Sixers. Her goal and her reward was to instill in hikers the notion that every mountain, just like every person, is different. “They are individual peaks and they all mean something different,” she once said. For Grace it was through the telling of stories from each hiking experience that the differences were revealed.
The correspondence between Grace and those climbing the 46 is housed permanently in the New York State Library Manuscripts and Special Collections to preserve a unique and significant historical record of the High Peaks region.