Lola McKee spent nearly six decades providing Madison Park residents the tools to build themselves up in the neighborhood as the owner of Madison Park Hardware. She spent years on the community council and business association, helping to organize many annual events Madison Park residents still look forward to every year.
McKee passed away at her longtime residence behind the hardware store on Feb. 15, after spending a month in hospice care. She was 93.
“She was bigger than life, that’s for sure,” said McKee’s daughter, Jeri Wenke, who moved back to Madison Park six years ago to take care of her mother.
McKee was born in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota.
“She couldn’t wait to get out of that town,” Wenke said, “so she took a business class and came out here.”
She met Earl “Bud” McKee in 1945 while she was working at the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library. They were married two weeks later.
McKee then spent six years as a bookkeeper for the Seattle Fire Department, making her the first woman to work for SFD, Wenke said.
The McKees made friends with a couple that owned the hardware store before them, and they took care of the business when the owners took a trip to Australia, said McKee’s granddaughter, Lisa Wenke. When the couple decided to move to Australia, they sold the business to Bud and Lola McKee at a good price in 1956. Their son still comes out to Madison Park to visit the family every summer.
The McKees had three children, all of whom worked at the hardware store at some point or another. Wenke said her mother worked so hard that she didn’t have time for a social life; her friends were her customers. McKee would work all day, come home to make dinner, work in the garden, and then do the bookkeeping, Wenke said.
Longtime resident and Madison Park Times columnist Richard Carl Lehman remembers going to the hardware store for nuts, bolts or a gallon of paint.
“Every time we walked into the hardware store, Bud and Lola always had something amusing to say,” he said.
Lehman even painted a portrait of McKee several years ago.
For longtime residents, McKee was regarded as the “Mayor of Madison Park,” and people would often come by her home to seek advice or complain about something they didn’t like in the neighborhood, even after she’d stopped serving on the community council.
“She fought to keep the neighborhood small, so that’s one reason she was on the (community) council,” Wenke said.
McKee fought plans for the Parkshore retirement community and Washington Park Tower, two high-rises that would never be permitted under today’s zoning designations in the neighborhood. Wenke said her mother also fought to keep out a Red Robin restaurant.
The oil crises in the 1970s caused many Seattleites to look at the once blue-collar neighborhood as a convenient place to call home due to the ease in getting downtown, she said. Lisa Wenke added its proximity to Lake Washington also helped.
“They lost a lot of old families they knew forever,” Wenke said. “A lot of people have stayed or come back.”
Bud and Lola McKee’s son, Scott Earl McKee, would go on to run the hardware store’s day-to-day operations until his death in late 2009; he was just 58.
More than 400 people came out for his memorial service at McGilvra’s Restaurant, creating a line that stretched down East Madison Street. Wenke said many were there to pay their respects to her mother.
“It’s like one customer said, ‘They came to kiss the ring of the don,’” she said.
After Scott McKee’s death, his mother received many offers to purchase Madison Park Hardware, some wanting to keep it a hardware store and others wanting to turn the space into a new business, Wenke said. Her mother wanted to sell it to Adam Hagen, who had worked at the hardware store in middle and high school.
“I very much enjoyed working for her,” said Hagen, who took over the business in late 2010. “I learned a great deal from her about the community and about taking care of the community. She viewed the store as serving the community, and I kind of watched that going on working for her in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and hope we’re still doing the same thing. That was my goal and her goal.”
The unofficial “Mayor of Madison Park,” McKee and her hardware store were always on the itinerary when a Seattle mayor made a visit to the neighborhood, Hagen said.
“Lola would playfully give them a talking to,” he said. “That’s her legacy, I think; the community being the way it is. I think a lot of people being newer don’t know why Madison Park is so great, and Lola is a big party of why it is what it is.”
An anonymous donor honored McKee for her many contributions to the neighborhood by funding the installation of a bench in her name along Madison Park North Beach in 2012. The plaque reads: “To honor the generous leadership and good purpose of Lola McKee.”
Wenke said the family is planning a memorial service for McKee that’s likely to take place in June, so more of her friends can attend. Anyone wishing to honor McKee is asked to make a donation to one of her favorite charities, which include Seattle Union Gospel Mission, Bailey-Boushay House and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.