Article and Photos by Sarah Miller
The sun was shining beautifully over Tulalip Bay as a crowd gathered outside of the health clinic to honor Karen Fryberg for her many years of hard work and dedication. The moment Karen arrives, you can feel the love in the room for her, as everyone applauds. She is humble and proud of all that she has accomplished and all those whom she’s helped.
A ceremony was held on August 30th to thank and recognize Karen for her many years of service to the health clinic as well as to officially rename the clinic the Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic. Karen was commended for all the hard work she put into making the health clinic what it is today.
Karen started working for the health clinic 32 years ago in 1980. She started out in a small building and was able to build the health clinic into what it is today. Back then, the health clinic had four or five employees and now, it has over eighty. Karen has spent most of her life not only making sure that people had a place to go for their health, but keeping people healthy as well. Her friends and family came together to make it known that her work has been greatly appreciated.
“This is a great honor for my family,” said Jennie Fryberg, daughter of Karen. “It means a lot to us. My mom has worked hard to provide a beautiful place for this community.”
During the ceremony, amid the sound of drumming, Karen was presented with a certificate thanking her for her many years of service.
“She is a phenomenal woman,” Jennie continued. “She’s helped the community members out. She totally dedicated her life to health. I’m thankful for this opportunity to get this retirement dinner and blessing ready for my mother. I planned everything for her and I’m thankful that they put it in my hands to make it a great day for my mother.”
Once the drumming had finished, people took turns talking about how Karen has helped them and what she represent to them. Tearful, Karen smiles through it all.
It was in 1998 that plans were being made for the health clinic. Karen got to be a big part of the planning, as this was her vision. In 2003, the staff moved into their current location, which overlooks the bay. It has taken a lot to get this started but Karen was persistent. It was not only for her benefit, but the benefit of her family and her tribe.
“A lot of people will remember this place,” Chairman Mel Sheldon comments. “I know that at times, it may have seemed easy to get this going, and sometimes it seemed too far away. I thank Karen for all the men’s wellness days, because if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have found out I had prostate cancer. I was able to catch it early. She helped a lot of people. This is not the end of a journey; it’s the beginning of another. She has affected so many people, she has brought so many people together.”
Karen retired in May 2012 from her position as Community Health Director. Nowadays, she plans on doing some traveling with her husband and being with her kid and grandkids.
“When we first started, we had one nurse practitioner, an outreach nurse, receptionist and one alcohol counselor,” Karen fondly remembers. “At the time, I was overseeing Family Services and the health clinic. We had one exam room and a tiny waiting room. We wanted to provide health care because people were not getting health care. A lot of people weren’t getting immunizations or prenatal care. There were a lot of things that happened to try to change things and provide services here. Our main mission was to provide the best services we could, something they could call their own and be proud of. I feel like I have achieved my goal.”
Karen states that making the move to a bigger and better equipped health care center was her biggest achievement.
“It was my proudest moment, moving in here,” she continued. “I was so excited that we did it. I miss being a part of the clinic. That’s been really hard for me to let go with my job. I miss my second family. I feel blessed that I had a big part in this. I feel that if I didn’t stick with it, we wouldn’t have this. I think the whole clinic staff helped with this. It wasn’t just me that did the planning, we included everyone.”
Once the blessing ceremony concluded, everyone headed to the Tulalip Resort for a retirement dinner to celebrate Karen’s many years of service to the tribe. A big thank you to Karen Fryberg for all her endeavors in getting proper health care to her tribal community.