Gretchen went peacefully home to be with her Savior on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. She was a loving and caring wife and mother and will be dearly missed. She will be fondly remembered by all who knew her as a gentle and kind person who gave her time and efforts to her church and to the P.E. O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Sisterhood which is passionate about its mission of promoting educational opportunities for women.

She was born in Henderson, Texas and moved when she was three to Martinsville, Illinois. Music was always a big part of her life from age five when she learned to sing “Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats.” She started piano lessons and sang in the church choir throughout her school years. She played the coronet in the marching band and flute in the contest band.
In high school, she and her family moved to Fredericktown, Missouri where she graduated valedictorian and received a scholarship to the University of Missouri. She met Tom Fort at the University of Missouri in freshman chemistry class and they started attending the Wesley Foundation together. She graduated in 1957 with a degree in zoology. She and Tom married on February 2, 1958 and Tom was commissioned into the Navy the same week.

They started married life in Woodbury, New Jersey across the river from the Philadelphia Navy Yard where Tom was stationed aboard the USS Galveston. Tom, Jr. was born at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. In 1961, they moved to Victoria, Texas where Tom started his career with DuPont. In 1963, they were transferred to the DuPont Pontchartrain Plant in Louisiana. Charles was born in 1963 at the Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. In both Texas and Louisiana, Gretchen had to drive away from hurricanes towards a safe location with Tom Jr. and then with Tom Jr. and Charles as Tom Sr. was away at Naval Reserves both times.
Gretchen and her family moved to Wilmington, Delaware in 1967. She was thrilled to learn that the University of Delaware had a medical technology program and in 1973 she was able to start a lifelong dream to become a medical technologist. She graduated in 1975 and while looking for a part-time job, she was offered the fulltime job of assistant to the University of Delaware Director of Medical Technology. She taught medical microbiology and parasitology from 1976 until she retired in 1988.
In 1989, she joined the P.E.O. and was active in Chapter F and then in Chapter H, both in Delaware. This led to seven years on the PEO State Board, and served as President of all the Delaware chapters in 2009. She developed many dear friendships over the years as they traveled to local, state and international meetings.

Gretchen was an active member in her church. Until 2004, she was a member of the Pennisula-McCabe United Methodist Church. She was part of the choir, served as chair of several committees, and helped to organize the church’s anniversary luncheon. Her chicken tetrazzini casserole is still used at the “anniversary casserole.” From 2005 to the present, she was a member of the Ebenezer United Methodist Church where she sang in the choir and learned how to play handbells. As chairman of the Missions Committee, she was instrumental in getting the Family Promise program as a mission for the church. She was also active in the United Methodist Women group.

Gretchen and Tom loved to travel and had many adventures around the world; from riding an elephant in Thailand, to a boat trip on the Amazon, to swimming in a volcanic caldera in Antarctica. During their married life, they visited all 50 states and all seven continents.

She and Tom celebrated their 50th anniversary with a party at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church. They continued their celebration by taking their kids on a cruise on a three-masted sailboat called the Sea Cloud. Although Tom just passed away this last August, he was always close to her. Just this month, her calendar marked 62 years of “going steady.”

She was preceded in death by her husband Tom, her parents Ivan and Essie Schmitt, and her brother Ivan Webb Schmitt. She is survived by her sons Thomas H Fort, Jr., and Charles W Fort (Julie); sister-in-law Janell Schmitt; brother- and sister-in-law Jerry and Judy Young; and five nieces and nephews.

A Memorial Service is planned for Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. with visitation at 3:00 p.m. at Ebenezer United Methodist Church, 525 Polly Drummond Road, Newark, DE.

In lieu of flowers, you are invited to make a donation to the P.E.O. Foundation, 3700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50312 or to the Ebenezer United Methodist Church, 525 Polly Drummond Road, Newark, DE 19711.