Obituary: Gretchen A. McHugh

Gretchen A. McHugh, a mother, musician, teacher, journalist and photographer who turned her love of good food and nature into a popular cookbook for outdoors enthusiasts, died Thursday, August 20, at The Slate Valley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Granville, New York. She was 78 years old and suffered from frontotemporal dementia.

Ms. McHugh lived in Granville.

Throughout her life, Gretchen McHugh was an avid hiker and canoeist, taking her two children and dogs on wilderness trips throughout the upper Midwest and, after moving to New York from Michigan in 1979, to the Hudson Valley, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. The rigors of raising children and preparing tasty, inexpensive food in the wild led her to study cooking and, finally, to write the defining outdoors cookbook, The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking, which was published by Alfred A. Knopf from 1982 to 2007. The book was republished by her family in November, 2012, and is available online.

In New York, Ms. McHugh worked in publishing before joining the staff of The Riverdale Press in The Bronx, where she was a reporter, photographer and editor of the paper’s Life Style section. In 1989 the New York Press Association named her Photographer of the Year and one of her articles was singled out as Best Feature Story. She also taught English literature at Bronx Community College. She spent many days sailing the Hudson River as a volunteer editor and photographer for Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Foundation and traveled to Northern Quebec to document the lives of Native Americans who were fighting expansion of a hydropower project on the Great Whale River. In 2004 she exhibited a collection of photographs titled Harnessing the Hudson, on the use of water power in the mills and factories on the edge of the Adirondacks. The show was mounted in collaboration with The Chapman Museum and the Folk Life Center of Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, New York.

Her love of the outdoors drew her out of New York City in 1993, when she settled in a 200-year-old farm house — with associated barns, fields and woodlot — in Granville, NY. She restored the barns and the house, learned the details of forest management, enrolled the woodlot in the New York Tree Farm System and became active in the New York Forest Owners’ Association. She was later treasurer of NYFOA’s Southern Adirondack Chapter. She taught English at Adirondack Community College and taught piano to private students.

A native of Birmingham, Michigan, Gretchen Ann Ruhl was the third of four daughters; their maternal grandfather Joseph Simms was born in Bohemia — now part of the Czech Republic — and became a prominent glass artist and engraver in Detroit. Gretchen studied piano from an early age and attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts and Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1963, where she was a member of the Shakespeare Society and made many lifelong friends. She received an MA from the University of Michigan and taught English and piano in the Detroit area. Her marriage to psychiatrist Dr. James McHugh ended in divorce.

She is survived by two sisters, Mary Edwards of Hendersonville, North Carolina, and Kathryn Allen of Northville, Michigan; her daughter Jennifer McHugh, her husband Jack Hedin and their children, Emmet, Oscar and Jasper Hedin of Winona, Minnesota; her son J. Murray McHugh, his wife Jinna and their children, Ashleigh, of Ashville, North Carolina, and Benjamin, of Granville, many nieces and nephews and her husband, John Sullivan of Chestertown, New York. Services and interment will be private.
Gretchen’s family offers profuse thanks to the many staff members at The Slate Valley Center for their good cheer and many years of devoted care.

Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Robert M. King Funeral Home, Granville. Donations in Gretchen’s memory may be made to The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, 724 Wolcott Ave., Beacon, NY 12508.