Anne Marie Kirchner Katterhagen, the founder of Tacoma’s first hospice center who went on to lead a national hospice-care organization, died Monday in Seattle. She was 78 and suffered from vascular dementia, her daughter said.
With husband J. Gale Katterhagen, the first oncologist in Tacoma, Anne Katterhagen started Hospice of Tacoma in 1977 and quickly made it one of the nation’s largest hospice facilities.
Katterhagen, a registered nurse who had been a stay-at-home mother for three daughters, built the South Sound’s first hospice center into a million-dollar agency at a time when many assumed she simply was a doctor’s wife dabbling in charity work.
“People didn’t realize that Anne was running a corporation of her own,” Gale Katterhagen, who died in 2001, told The News Tribune in 1981.
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The idea was born shortly after Providence Hospice of Seattle became the first hospice in the Pacific Northwest in 1975. On a road trip to Yakima in a green Ford van with her husband and Dr. Bob Thiessen, conversation wandered into how the concept might help the South Sound, Thiessen recalled Thursday.
“We were all talking about how that would be a great service for Tacoma,” said Thiessen, who was Tacoma’s second oncologist.
Shortly after their return, Katterhagen started the nonprofit to give in-home comfort to the terminally ill. The hospice began with two volunteers. By 1982, it had 24 employees and provided services for more than 900 Pierce County residents in one year.
“Anne had so much talent,” Thiessen recalled. “She just wanted to find something to do. Once she started, she just took off.”
Katterhagen helped lead national efforts to expand federal benefits for the then-new field of end-of-life care, including testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in 1984 and 1989 about how Medicare and Medicaid benefits failed to address long-term and terminal ailments.
“The good news is that we are all living older,” she testified in 1989. “The bad news is it gives us a chance to develop more chronic illnesses, such as arthritis and lung diseases and cancer.”
She chaired the National Association for Home Care, founded the Hospice Association of America and, after leaving Tacoma in 1986 with her husband, oversaw external health care programs for a 600-bed hospital in Springfield, Illinois, where he directed cancer programs.
The couple returned to the South Sound in the 1990s to live in Tacoma near their grandsons, said their daughter Christine Katterhagen, a Longview-based surgeon.
After Gale Katterhagen died in 2001, Anne Katterhagen moved to Gig Harbor, traveled internationally, was a president of the Catholic Women’s Club and was a board member of the Franke Tobey Jones retirement community and of the MultiCare Health Foundation.
The MultiCare Health System’s Katterhagen Cancer Resource Center is named in honor of the couple.
She is survived by three daughters, four grandsons and a brother. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Katterhagen’s name to MultiCare Health Foundation, noting support for MultiCare Hospice.
A Rosary service for Anne Marie Kirchner Katterhagen is planned for 6 p.m. March 6 at Mountain View Funeral Home in Lakewood, with March 7 services to include a funeral Mass at 9 a.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 7112 S. 12th St., Tacoma, and a graveside ceremony at 1 p.m. at Calvary Cemetery.