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Sunday, May 13, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Portraits

Nancy Skinner Nordhoff | With hands fully on, she builds community creatively

When you see Nancy Skinner Nordhoff driving her old pickup around Langley, you'd never guess she's the angel of South Whidbey Island. Nordhoff grew up in Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood, graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1954, married and raised three children while carrying on the family philanthropic tradition with United Way and the Skinner Family Foundation. In the 1980s she launched her own style of hands-on, creative philanthropy by founding Hedgebrook writers retreat. In 2006, the National Women's History Project honored Nordhoff as a "Builder of Communities and Dreams."

Q: What's unique about Hedgebrook?

A: Hedgebrook is for women, with only six residents at a time. I'm proud that over 50 percent are women of color. It's a chance for women to get away from taking care of others. We tell the residents, "Take your time, do your work."

Q: There was lots of publicity last summer when Gloria Steinem spent three weeks at Hedgebrook.

A: Gloria is so natural, and people got to experience that. Gloria has agreed to be on our Advisory Council, along with ("Vagina Monologues" playwright) Eve Ensler.

Q: What are some of your other projects?

A: There's something in me that likes old houses and wants to save them. We rebuilt a 100-year-old Finnish house at the Whidbey Institute, and it has such spirit. We saved several old Sears farmer's cottages at Greenbank Farm; the last one we moved to Bayview Corner for Goosefoot's office.

Q: What's Goosefoot?

A: Goosefoot Community Fund is a nonprofit that builds community. We renovated historic Bayview Corner, and now we support and strengthen the retailers there.

Q: Who has inspired you?

A: My brother, Ned Skinner, always had an open door. He'd listen and give a fair answer to what people needed.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We're negotiating for a medical clinic across from Bayview Hall, and we're supporting the new gatehouse at Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens.

Q: What's next?

A: I want to make my experience in resource development and connecting people useful to others. I want to find time to garden, see more of my children and seven grandkids. I love the casinos and play the slots.

Q: What is creative philanthropy?

A: It's doing what's close to your heart, starting from scratch, using what you've learned.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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