Andre Hirss | Obituary

Andre Hirss’s parents first met on a train in their homeland of Latvia. The second and third times they met were to plan, then celebrate their wedding in 1923. Alma “Mutti” Hirss gave birth to Andre on July 27th, 1935; Roberts “Papu” Hirss delivered him, just as he had with Andre’s brothers Rudy and Ivars.

Andre and his brothers were born into an amazing life in Riga, Latvia. Quick-minded Papu had worked his way from being a five-year-old factory laborer to owning his own textile factory. Mutti had grown up on a farm with her family, enduring famine and sleeping in the forest to avoid Bolshevik invaders. Together, they formed an energetic team, developing a textile mill that eventually employed 2,000, offering child care, health care, even a choral group. It was one of the largest businesses in Latvia.

Andre spent his first four years in an elegant home, staffed with gardeners, cooks, and governesses. There were afternoons by the pool, picnics on the yacht, and ski trips to their country house.

But wise Papu knew that war was coming. He also knew capitalists like himself and his family would be liquidated under Communist rule. So in 1939, Papu hired a pilot to fly the family to Switzerland. For a year, Mutti and the boys lived in a mountain hotel while Papu went to the U.S. to arrange for their immigration. Switzerland was magical for Andre: he learned to ski. The joy and freedom of skiing stayed with Andre all his life.

The Hirsses settled in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where Papu established a new textile mill, and the boys attended boarding schools. To keep Andre close to Ivars at school, Andre was allowed to skip a couple of grades.

Andre graduated from Haverford College in 1956, in love with Naomi Vassady, an amazing young woman from nearby Bryn Mawr. They married, and in 1958, their son Andrew was born as Andre was finishing his Master’s in creative writing at Michigan. Andre was not able to stay together with Naomi and Andrew, however, and chose to move west when Andrew was three. During college, a friend had introduced Andre to Seattle’s waters, mountains, and forests, and he was dazzled by the northwest.

Later, out west, Andre married Jean Underwood. They shared a love of hiking and skiing and had many outdoor adventures, but divorced after 13 years of marriage.

Andre earned his teaching degree at University of Washington, and taught in Seattle’s public schools: Rainier Beach High School, then Garfield High. He became a believer in experiential learning, wanting kids to engage in their interests, rather than simply reading about them. Andre and Willie Wahl started a ski school, bringing kids up to Crystal Mountain to learn the sport. There, Andre taught his son Andrew, now an adolescent, how to ski.

Back at Garfield, some students were creating the first public alternative school in Seattle, Nova. In charge of hiring their first teachers, they hired Andre. Finally, Andre felt truly at home. Through Nova, he was able to take kids into the mountains, to the coast, all around the country and even to Mexico. He was a “facilitator,” but the students handled all trip logistics, including cooking. Much could have gone wrong on those trips, but somehow, perhaps due to Andre’s charismatic spirit or Papu’s goal-achieving influence, Andre’s trust in experiential learning was always rewarded.

A favorite trip involved apple-picking in eastern Washington, where students learned basic life lessons like effort = reward. On one of these trips, Andre met a high school senior named Holly Bower. They enjoyed picking together, and walking by the Wenatchee River. Back in Seattle, Andre and Holly continued to see each other and realized they were in love. After graduation, they moved in together, staying in Seattle for two years.

On a bicycle trip to Lopez, they discovered the beauty and warmth of Lopez and its community. With Mutti’s help, Holly and Andre bought land on Lopez, which reminded Mutti of Latvia. In the summers of 1976-77, Holly sold baked goods at Richardson Store, and in 1978, Holly B’s Bakery opened its doors in Lopez Village. Andre first built a one-room cabin on their land, and gradually, a beautiful, larger house.

In 1981 Ty Hirss was born, joined in 1983 by brothers Rom and Galen. The family settled into a routine of spending winters in the Cascades at Stevens Pass, then moving back to Lopez to run the bakery April-November.

Ty, Rom and Galen skied well by age four. At thirteen, they were selling and teaching ski lessons. They spent seventeen winters in a tiny cabin, which they adored. At the bakery, they helped bake, clean, and calculate payroll. Their lifestyle was their schooling. As young men they continued this pattern, moving to the Rockies for winter, baking and working construction and landscaping during the warm months.

In 2010, Andre was diagnosed with lung cancer—a huge surprise, since outdoorsy, athletic Andre never smoked. Fortunately, immunotherapy drugs gave him many bonus years, so Andre was able to meet his four grandchildren. Andre enjoyed skiing up until 2016, when his lungs began to rebel.

Andre entered hospice in June, 2018, given only days or weeks to live. But he lived six months longer, savoring time with his wife, sons and grandchildren, and blessed with a team of care-giving friends. He also enjoyed indulging in treats like ice cream, bacon, and red wine. A few days before he passed, Andre moaned with pleasure over a steak and potato dinner, asked for seconds, then had chocolate cookies for dessert. In the last few days of his life, Andre turned within himself. He passed peacefully Christmas night with his family at his side, urging him to let his spirit soar free like an eagle into the night sky. And he did.

Andre’s spirit will live on in the hearts of his wife Holly, his sons Andrew, Ty, Rom and Galen, his daughters-in-law Cheryl and Jess, and his grandchildren Hayden, Marek, Kallum and Leopold. Nature was Andre’s church; may his deep joy in the outdoors be with us all.