JARS v58n1 - In Memoriam: Carl 'Jake' Jacobson

In Memoriam: Carl "Jake" Jacobson
Kristi O'Donnell
Executive Director, Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens

Carl A. (Jake) Jacobson passed away at home on September 23, 2003, after a short illness. He was born March 12, 1926, in Michigan. Jake spent a good part of his working life in Alaska as part owner of a general store, a commercial fisherman, a big game guide and partner in Whalers Cove Lodge.

Jake and his wife, Peg, came to volunteer at Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in the 1980s. They were growing rhodies in their two homes: in Alaska and Maui! Elsie Watson would send him hardy plants to try and Jake began hybridizing for cold tolerance, using Rhododendron brachycarpum .

Jake loved the Gardens. He showed me his strength and will to live. During a time when a supposed simple surgery procedure air-lifted him off Whidbey, he returned looking somewhat gray. It was late in the year, and he had his grandson drive him here every day to work on the plant labeling projects. His two canes steadied him as he walked the steps. He never gave up.

It was shortly thereafter that he came to me with an idea and a request: "What do you think about planting a Big Leaf Valley highlighting the big leaf, arboreal rhododendrons from Tibet, Yunnan...the Himalayas?” I was totally supportive of the idea and we began planning. This was in 1999. He was up to speed now, after his many operations and he sketched out a plan, we drew up a timetable, and he enlisted the help of his apprentice, Don Kohlenberger.

His love of rhodies and the big leaf's was a lifeline. He was a major gift donor to the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens investing in its Endowment Fund, the New Well Fund, and paying for the gravel, the landscape cloth and soil - and then organized the crews to help him install the path and plants. He asked Steve Hootman of the Rhododendron Species Foundation to identify and correctly catalog the collection. Plant collectors Steve Hootman, Warren Berg, June Sinclair, Garratt Richarson, Karen Swenson for Bernie, Frank Fujioka and Paul Christensen donated plants to this unique project. Jake made the labels and helped with the database. He sat in his "garden office" to answer questions from the awestruck public as they viewed these exotic plants.

This autumn, Jake was the primary funder of a plant exploration by Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden co-director Steve Hootman. Jake was intent on finding the elusive big leaf Rhododendron wattii from NE India. Steve did not find R. wattii and believes it to be a stray hybrid of R. arboreum x macabeanum , collected in the wild one time. Steve shared, "He (Jake) would have been happy with our results, as we collected many big leaf's, including R. eximium and R. macabeanum . The macabeanum should prove to be quite hardy as it was collected at 12,600 feet, much higher than Kingdon Wards's collection at 10,000 feet." Meerkerk board member Frank Fujioka is in contact with Steve to assure that seeds of these fine specimens will reach the Big Leaf Valley here at sea level in addition to finding homes with his fellow rhododendron friends.

You can tell that Jake made an impression on all of us here at Meerkerk: we have Jake's tractor, Jake's office, and Jake's desk in the Volunteer Cottage. It is too early to talk of filling his shoes - and as you can see, we have lots of room to fill.

His wife, Marguerite (Peg); two daughters, Chris Aubertine and Viccy Schroder; ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren survive him. He is preceded in death by a son, Carl A. Jacobson III. Jake's final resting place is in the National Cemetery in Sitka, Alaska.