In Memoriam: Peggy and Art Zabel
Margaret (Peggy) Leona Zabel's earthly journey ended on November 25, 2007, at the age of 92. Arthur (Art) Carroll Zabel, age 91, entered eternal rest on January 25, 2008. This article is written for both because we could not think of one without thinking of the other. To say they were rhododendron enthusiasts is putting it mildly. Art and Peggy Zabel epitomized the love of rhododendrons. For 27 years they opened their garden to the public for the whole month of May. It was not uncommon for over 5,000 visitors to visit during that month every year. Visitors would come from all over the world and Art loved to keep records of them. This garden encompassed three and a half acres right behind their home. Originally it was a nut orchard and was subsequently transformed into this beauteous space with hundreds of plants, flowers, trails, ground covers, and trees. Art was always there to greet people and answer questions. He loved to give candy to the kids, after they guessed which hand it was in. Peggy has a rhododendron named after her.
Art and Peggy met each other when they were both attending Metropolitan Business College in Seattle. They were married on August 29, 1936. As a young wife and mother Peggy continued her love of dancing. She had a short semi professional career prior to leaving Yakima, and in Olympia taught briefly for Mary Sweeney. She mentored her two daughters and encouraged their lessons with several teachers. She loved performing with her daughters, and later developed strong interests in both Polynesian and Middle Eastern dance. Also, she worked with her husband and other family members at the Capitol, Lacey and Sunset drive-in theaters. She was active in several organizations. Both Peggy and Art were active in the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Art was a theater man like his father and brothers. His father, Ed, operated the Old Ray and Acme theaters beginning in 1909 and then built the Capitol Theater in 1924. As a young man, Art would walk to Percival Dock to pick up film reels and unload them off of the steamships. On weekends during high school he would take tickets at the Capitol matinees. He was a fixture there during his career, greeting everyone, and making sure all had a good time at the movies. Eventually, Art and his brothers assumed the business and maintained an office in the building long after the theater was sold in the 1970s. In the mid-fifties the Zabel family purchased the Sunset Drive-In in Tumwater and built the Lacey Drive-In.
After retirement from the theater business, Art transitioned into a second "career" - volunteering. He always enjoyed children, cared about their welfare, and easily related to them. When the first childcare center was established in Olympia, Art began his long association with the now Olympia Early Learning Center. Other weekdays were devoted to helping children with reading and math, especially at Lincoln Elementary, including the YMCA after school program there, and at John Rogers and Roosevelt schools, and Head Start.
Art received many awards and honors for his service to the Olympia community, among which are The Governor's Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, The South Sound YMCA Child Care Volunteer of the Year, as well as many others. He was awarded the Bronze Medal in 1990 by the Olympia Chapter American Rhododendron Society. He accepted recognition with much pleasure, but also quietly and humbly, as was his nature.
When a legacy such as Art and Peggy's garden has been a part of this community for so many years, it is only natural that we would ask what would become of it. After Art's passing, the community was told that the garden was purchased by the Angela J. Bowen Conservancy Foundation and will be maintained by them as a wildlife habitat. Sheri Fulton, Art and Peggy's daughter, said, "We thought it would be a comfort for the community to know that it would be maintained. That's what our parents would have wanted." Many articles have been written in The Olympian newspaper over the years. One article in May 2001 indicated that legislation had been introduced with the purpose that the garden would be cared for in the future. Unfortunately, that legislation did not pass.
A quote from The Olympian in an article published February 10, 2008: "Art and Peggy Zabel were community icons and their gift of peace, tranquility and beauty will be with us for a long, long time."
You are missed, dear friends.