Memory Hub Team Spotlight: Mary Jane Knecht,  On-Site Collaborator

July 05, 2023

Dementia-Friendly Community, Art, Nature, Memory Hub Spotlight

The idea for the Memory Hub recognized that living well with dementia means going beyond the focus on one's medical condition to fulfilling creative, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Mary Jane Knecht

Our on-site collaborator Mary Jane Knecht retired in June, sparking off bittersweet celebrations of her foundational role at the Memory Hub and her legacy in the field of Creative Aging.

Knecht has served as the longtime manager of Creative Aging Programs at the Frye Art Museum, the founding partner of the Memory Hub. Her work is reflected in the Frye Creative Aging programs for people living with memory loss and their families, such as here:now and Meet Me at the Movies. One of these programs, the Alzheimer's Café, now happens at the Memory Hub every second Tuesday!

The story of the Memory Hub—of its early days and current vibrant reality—can't be told without Mary Jane Knecht as a main character. In fact, she was one of the first people to brainstorm about the idea with Marigrace Becker, who is now the director of the Memory Hub. “Mary Jane was an instrumental co-visionary for the Memory Hub from the very beginning,” states Becker. “The project quite literally would not have happened without her passion and commitment to the Frye’s role as founding partner.”

For Knecht, the idea made perfect sense at a time when the Frye's Creative Aging programs was nearing their 10-year milestone, drawing more interest and public participation than ever. "I was thrilled for the opportunity and challenge for a major medical clinic and an art museum to come together and create a ground-breaking space for the dementia-friendly community. The idea for the Memory Hub recognized that living well with dementia means going beyond the focus on one's medical condition to fulfilling creative, emotional, and spiritual needs."

Knecht also helped find the physical home for the Memory Hub, in a recently vacated building on Frye Art Museum property. She remembers the features that made 1021 Columbia Street the perfect spot for a dementia-friendly community center. "The location was ideal for people coming from the Memory and Brain Wellness Center clinic and from the Frye, as well as people who live in the older adult care communities in our neighborhood," she said. "I was also excited by the prospect of making that enclosed green space vibrant and alive again."

Celosia growing in Maude's Garden

Because of these early visions of a vibrant green space at the Memory Hub, Mary Jane Knecht is the perfect person to ask, "What do you see when you look at Maude's Garden today?"

"I feel love," she said. "I feel a lot of shared humanity. I feel the beauty of what can come from caring for each other and for caring for the land. It makes me happy to see what has been created from the care and support of within the community. And when I look at the little maple tree or the donated benches, I feel the legacy of people who lived with dementia, and of family and friends who are keeping their spirits alive."

Her own "memory plant" grows in Maude's Garden in the summer: celosia (see-low-zhuh). The plant makes her think of her father, who was a gardener and always grew celosia in their home garden in Pennsylvania. He would pull them up and hang them from the rafters to dry their feathery spikes of flowers. “As a kid, I would lay on the floor and look up and see all that beautiful color, all through the winter," she said.

Knecht says her hope for the Memory Hub is further collaboration that brings the community together. It is collaboration, after all, that helped make Seattle more dementia friendly over the decades and has kept the Momentia Seattle grassroots movement going strong. "Looking back on Seattle 20 years ago, I saw a community wanting to better care for loved ones and care partners," she said. "The existence of more dementia-friendly programs and resources—it's testimony to a greater Seattle community recognizing that it’s possible to live well with dementia, that so much more living is still possible."

Now spending less time in front of the computer, Knecht is doing more open water swimming and enjoying gardening and tending her family's garden orchard. All of us at the Memory Hub look forward to learning about our dear collaborator's journeys through water when we see her, from time to time, in Maude's Garden.

Read the Frye Art Museum's interview of Mary Jane Knecht about her career in Creative Aging.

Genevieve Wanucha