Ordinary People Making an Extraordinary Impact on the Eastside

Meet Gretchen Asher, Dan Sakaue, Lucy Bassli, Danielle Kartes, and Jerry Dixon.

Fierce, Fab, and Over 50

A couple years ago, corporate consultant Gretchen Asher, now 59, met with a branding expert about a product she was developing called BeFab Skincare. He told her that the product’s name should be changed because “fab” is not an appropriate moniker to describe women over 50 — a conversation that ultimately inspired her to start a global online community for women who are 50-plus. Now just over a year old, the BeFab Revolution has brought together 15,000 women in more than 30 countries, creating a space for them to support and celebrate one another while defying a culture that she says sees them as no longer fabulous.

 


“Everything is anti-aging — (you’re told) you don’t want to get old. It’s nice to be a part of a group where we’re changing that conversation.”


 

Gretchen Asher

Photo by Rodrigo DeMedeiros

We need to change our culture’s conversation about women who are aging. Being over 50 means a huge time of transformation for women. Physically, we go through menopause, which turns our bodies upside down. If we have kids, the kids are leaving, so we also go through an identity change. Or after decades of marriage, women (go through divorce), or their spouse dies. A lot of women are rediscovering who they are now. It’s a time of huge change for a lot of women in my age group, and all over the world, too. (There are) easily 30 or 40 different countries represented in the group, from all over the world. I see these patterns everywhere; they’re very similar no matter the culture. It’s really fascinating to see.

I decided I wanted to help create a movement that celebrates women over 50 and the wisdom that we have accumulated over a lifetime. I started a free Facebook group called Fab Women Over Fifty, and it grew like crazy. From there, I started something called the Inner Circle for women who wanted more. They pay a small, monthly membership fee, then I do webinars — I call them Fabinars — with a guest expert on subjects pertinent to women 50-plus. I (then) bring the expert into the Inner Circle for a live Q&A.

I’ve had a doctor come in to talk about bioidentical hormone therapy versus regular hormone therapy. I recently had a nutritional biochemist come in and talk about gut health — autoimmune conditions that impact women in this demographic, like fibromyalgia and arthritis, start in the gut. I’ve also brought in an internationally known style expert and a fitness expert. It’s really fun to seek out these wonderful and talented women.

Having this group has grounded me about not feeling bad about being over 50. There’s this undercurrent that we should apologize for aging. That’s just our culture. And what I love about running and being a part of this global community, where I am my own demographic, is the strength that I get. I think we need to teach our daughters not to fall prey to the cultural norms that we see. Everything is anti-aging — (you’re told) you don’t want to get old. It’s nice to be a part of a group where we’re changing that conversation. We have to change it for us before we can change it for the world.

I don’t care as much about what people think of me; I don’t worry about it, and so many women over 50 say that. They’re just so done with trying to measure themselves against their neighbors or their best friends. I like coming into my wisdom: I know a lot, and I have a lot of confidence now. It’s hard to get that without the experience.

I hope this movement grows and gets really big, because women 50-plus, we are far from done. We still have so much to give, and we still need to transform and grow. As told to Zoe Branch

 

Teaching Compassion through Math

Dan Sakaue has worked in public schools for 32 years as both an administrator and a teacher. Now about six years away from retirement, he reflected on his long career working with children — mostly fifth-graders — which has included teaching math and social/emotional learning skills, as well as learning Chinese to prepare him for a job at Jing Mei, one of Bellevue’s dual-language schools. His mission is to serve the needs of the children in his classroom in order to shape them into more compassionate, kind, and thoughtful people — and, he said, they have similarly shaped him in return.

 


“I want to give the kids as much power as I can so that they can go through this world skillfully and intentionally and kindly.”


 

Dan Sakaue

Photo by Jeff Hobson

I grew up in Hawaii in a middle-income, Buddhist family. Being raised in that faith, there was an emphasis on being of service to others, on giving back. I always knew that I wanted to make a difference in society by helping people. And I’ve done that in my life by working with kids in public schools.

One of the reasons I became a teacher was that I was kind of a naughty student. The teachers had no respect for us, and we had no respect for the teachers. There were 2,000 kids; it was the biggest elementary school in the state of Hawaii. But I think that’s why I like the tougher kids now and know how to work with them.

(The classroom) gives us an opportunity to teach children so much more than an academic subject: I try to teach them a sense of humility, a sense of service — that if you have something, you need to be able to give it back.

I always try to find things that I can learn from (kids) as well. I mean that sincerely. When I work in the classroom, I’m engaging in a partnership of learning with the children. It’s about empowering them, finding their strengths, and really believing in them. I want to give the kids as much power as I can so that they can go through this world skillfully, and intentionally, and kindly.

When I first became a teacher, I was working really hard, and I knew I had a lot to learn. There are a lot of things that I would probably approach differently now than I did then. But all those kids, especially the tough ones, still taught me compassion. They taught me humor. I’ve learned to truly respect and embrace children for who they are.

In 2015, I was invited to work at the Mandarin dual-language school in Bellevue. I was surprised, because I didn’t speak Chinese, and I don’t consider myself an English teacher. After 30 years of being an educator, though, I wanted to do something completely different, and I took the opportunity to do so.

I wasn’t proficient in the language. I had to ask kids to translate sometimes. They always translated fairly — we had such huge respect for each other. There was so much complexity and richness in that experience that I was able to benefit from.

This year, I’ll be working with math students at Odle Middle School and at Medina Elementary in the Advanced Learning Program. Teaching math is the thing that I’m passionate about and skilled at, and I’m eager to go back to it.

I feel guilty some days because what I do is so much fun. I’ve had my rough days; don’t get me wrong. But for most of my career, I sit back at the end of the day and feel like the richest person in the whole wide world. The experiences that I’ve had because of this job — it’s not a financially tangible thing that I get back. The connections with the students — that’s what it’s all about. As told to Zoe Branch

 

The Modernizing Face of Legal Services

Lucy Bassli is all about empowering others. A lawyer who was born in Ukraine and now lives in Bellevue, Bassli left her 13-year position as an attorney at Microsoft in January to start a law firm and consultancy that empowers businesses to be self-sufficient — a move that she also hopes will empower other women to take leaps of faith in their careers. Her company, InnoLegal Services, aims to advise on providing cost- and time-efficient legal services of the future to businesses. She is the sole provider for her family, with her husband staying at home to care for their three children (and new puppy).

 


“I would love for more women, especially young women, to be more comfortable saying that they are good at things.”


 

Lucy Bassli

Photo by Jeff Hobson

I’ve had this sense of empowerment from the beginning. My mom is a great role model; my dad was always very supportive. There’s nothing I couldn’t do — that was the platform I was always given. Once I started in a professional role, though, I did realize that there aren’t many women peers like me that I saw. There were fewer role models to look up to. That’s when I started thinking: “Women need to do better. Where are we? We’re smart. We’re capable. We’re falling off. Why are we being quiet, settling for less, and taking other jobs?” That’s what happens in legal quite often. People start wanting to have families, and there’s this natural drop-off. It’s 50-50 men and women in law school — the same at the junior attorney level in law firms. Four, five years into practice, people start reaching their early 30s, get married, have kids, and the women just disappear.

That’s the worst feeling, looking up in your mid-30s and just thinking: “Wow; there used to be more of us.”

In starting my business, I want to help other legal services businesses and attorneys learn what I was able to learn and accomplish during my 13 years at Microsoft. I was lucky: I had a dream job at a dream company. There were so many other legal departments at companies that needed help, and they were all calling me for advice. Eventually, I thought it might be fun to start my own business — woman-owned, woman-started — and combine legal and consulting services. I want to deliver legal differently; I also want to empower other women in law and business to own their careers and not shy away from opportunities.

So, I’m setting out on my own — crazy or brave — venture. We don’t have enough women in technology, and we don’t have enough women in leadership positions in law. I think the way that women can change that is by differentiating ourselves and playing to our strengths. Women shouldn’t feel obligated to compete by getting out on the golf course and smoking cigars — we shouldn’t have to try to fit in with the men to be successful. I do think that women have the skills we need to deliver legal help in a different way, to be new-age lawyers. Skillsets like the ability to multitask, be efficient, and get stuff done — those are perfect for what legal needs as it continues to change, and technology can really enable that change.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of law because technology is forcing us to change the way we do things; it’s making traditional lawyers pivot, and it’s opening up new career opportunities for people coming out of law school. I think it’s a great opportunity for women to step up for change and be heard in a profession that has always been traditional — stuck doing things the way they’ve always been done.

I’ve gotten more comfortable saying, “I’m really good at this.” I would love for more women, especially young women, to be more comfortable saying that they are good at things. I hope to empower women, through my work and actions, to be more confident that way. — As told to Zoe Branch

 

Spreading the Gospel of Good Food and a Good Life

Sammamish resident Danielle Kartes is unapologetically herself, and that’s why her and her husband’s brand, Rustic Joyful Food, is so successful. They’ve turned their darkest years — nearly divorcing, losing their restaurant and home — into a message of hope. Her delivery just happens to be in the form of the best pot roast ever, and many more recipes curated over the years compiled in two self-published books. Despite the hurdles, the team managed to get their cookbooks on Costco shelves and now she’s a regular guest on the Rachael Ray Show. You know her from her recipes in our magazines, but you’ve never known her like this.

 


“I never want success in my life to be measured by the things that I have. I only want it to be measured by the people that we impact.”


 

Danielle Kartes

Photo by Michael Kartes

I was a makeup artist for several years, and I loved being a makeup artist, but I felt like there was something missing. My husband and I decided to open a restaurant in 2009. It was wildly successful in the very beginning, but it began to deteriorate my marriage. Unbeknownst to me, I was pregnant with our little angel, Noah. Normally they say never have a child to save your marriage, but in this case, it really did work for us.

So, we let our restaurant go, and we had this beautiful little baby, and nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter that we had no money. It didn’t matter that our cars were getting repossessed. It didn’t matter that we were losing our house. Having Noah showed us what our purpose is.

I went back to doing makeup. I didn’t want anyone to know about the restaurant; I didn’t want anyone to know about my failure. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. Fast forward, Noah is about 6 months old, and he needs to eat, and we’re super broke. I’m like, “I guess I’m going to start cooking again,” and it just awoke this thing in me. I was like, “I’ve got to write down the recipes from the restaurant, or I’m going to lose them.”

We created a cookbook — Rustic Joyful Food: My Heart’s Table — and I was able to share everything that we went through and everything we lost. I think that’s why Rustic Joyful is so different. People are like: “Oh, I can just be me, and I don’t have all the money in the world. I don’t have it all together, but I can still do something for my family or the people that I love right now.” For me that’s making a meal.

With the second book, Generations, I was just coming out of having our (second) son, Milo. I was on bed rest for almost a whole year, and during that time, I couldn’t work. I thought: “How am I still going to find joy? How is life still good?” I’ve really had to eat my own medicine. That was a hard time in my life. He came eight weeks early, and we lived in the hospital for the entire last summer.

We have very real stuff going on, and we’re still happy. We still eat cheesy caramel popcorn, and we find joy even when our kiddo is being monitored for fluids in his brain. I want people to know that’s what life is all about. That’s what Rustic Joyful Food is all about — that life is good right now, no matter what. I was so ashamed when we lost the restaurant. All my priorities were so skewed. I thought success was this thing you amassed. I never want success in my life to be measured by the things that I have. I only want it to be measured by the people that we impact. — As told to Shelby Rowe Moyer

 

Presenting Theater through a Kaleidoscopic Lens

Jerry Dixon, the artistic director of Village Theatre, stepped into this new role in June after having directed at the Issaquah and Everett theater company on and off for 12 years. After high school and a year-long traveling gig with an international singing group, Dixon returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and worked in a men’s department store by day and acted by night. It was there that he was discovered by the owner of the department store, who brought Dixon up to his office and cut him a “sizeable check” to pursue his dreams of acting in musical theater in New York. That support money opened doors to Dixon’s impressive trajectory as an actor and director, which has now culminated in a leadership role at Village Theatre.

 


“When you choose diversity, when you choose inclusion, you’re choosing expansion.”


 

Jerry Dixon

Photo by Jeff Hobson

A lot of people will say, “Why did you take this job?” And not just this artistic directorship, but other jobs, too. And I say, “Because I’m afraid of the person that might get it. I’m afraid of what they might not do. I’m afraid they might not be inclusive. They might not have an expanded mind.” The thing about inclusion and diversity, all the (buzzwords) we talk about, is that they don’t happen on accident. You have to put the work in, and you can’t wait for someone else to do it because they won’t.

When I was invited to direct Show Boat, I did not realize I was the first African American to direct Show Boat in the United States, and I believe this is a phenomenon, because people think I’m not going to be interested in this old musical about white people who treat black people badly. But if not me, then who — who, to be sensitive about those issues?

To me diversity is a tool. People think diversity is the goal, but diversity is a tool to connect, (which leads to) relationships, and that’s what theater is about. I feel like when you choose diversity, when you choose inclusion, you’re choosing expansion. I think when you choose the status quo for your company, for your brand, for your philosophy, (it) shrinks, because you’re just going down the safe path. And isn’t theater the industry where we can be truly risky, and people will accept it?

I don’t want (patrons) to come in and go: “Wow, that was a really diverse show.” I want them to come in and go: “I really related to those people. I really related to this experience.” I think when people recognize themselves in any industry, they’re bound to support it.

When we talk diversity, is it seeing a mix of cast members? Or, can you go back and see it in the stagehands? Can you walk through our administration offices and see it back there? Is it racial? Is it gender? Is it sexual orientation? Is it size?

And it’s not just about getting (diverse) actors, carpenters, scenic designers, or marketing people for one project. It’s about folding them into our process, so it’s not a token gesture but actually a welcoming one.

Having diversity means a lot of foot work. It means meeting with all different kinds of people, just for coffee or ice cream to talk about what they’re dreaming about, what they want to accomplish in the theater. That’s one of the most exciting things about being an artistic director: It’s such a shared dream.

Surely, there will come a time where someone wants to be in the show that I would never have thought of. And my brain will have to recalibrate, and I’ll go: “You know what, I get that. I understand why you want to do that.”

You have to be ready. It’s almost like a muscle you have to train to remain open, because change is shocking. — As told to Shelby Rowe Moyer

 

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