Wanted: Feet to fill big shoes

Volunteers needed to carry on late activist Gene Brandzel’s community projects

Wanted: Feet to fill big shoes

Wanted: Feet to fill big shoes

In his lifetime, longtime Madison Park resident Gene Brandzel was many things: a husband and family man, a lawyer, a friend.

Brandzel, who died in October of last year, was also a champion of Madison Park. Not only did he advocate for his community and its residents when he served as president of the neighborhood council, he did so again as a member of the Friends of Street Ends where he worked tirelessly to beautify and open to the public shoreline street ends on East Highland, the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary and East Prospect Street, which he completed in 2020 with the help of many volunteers he recruited.

One of those people was semi-retired landscape designer Octavia Chambliss, owner of  Octavia Chambliss Garden Design and Brandzel’s good friend, who obtained plants to be installed at Brandzel’s shoreline sites and arranged for colleagues to help plant them. Everything else, from finding volunteers for work parties, to raising money, to working with the Seattle Department of Transportation Shoreline Street Ends project manager Omar Akkari, was all because of Brandzel, she said.

“I take very little credit, other than it was impossible to say no to Gene,” she said.

Even when his health was failing, it was his enthusiasm and passion for his projects and unfailing positivity that made him so successful at transforming his street end sites, Chambliss said.

“He was such a gregarious, warm man, and he wanted to tell you what he was doing and what this was all about and just was so enthusiastic that it was just infectious, and it was also just a good thing for the community,” Chambliss said.

Both Chambliss and Karen Daubert, a Friends of Street Ends coordinator, said Brandzel wouldn’t shy away from hard work either and wasn’t discouraged when his project sites were abandoned, garbage-strewn tangles of overgrown brambles and weeds that looked impossible to tackle.

“He was the most useful man at his age that I think I had ever known,” Chambliss said, comparing him to the late Lola McKee, “the Mayor of Madison Park,” who owned Madison Park Hardware for 58 years.

“He was, to me, not as well known as Lola, but was in that same sort of echelon of people who just unfailingly give back to their communities and make an impact on their communities,” Chambliss added.

She said she thinks part of what pushed Brandzel to begin his projects was a desire to create more recreational opportunities and ways for people to access the water.

“He wasn’t a wealthy man and was cognizant that there needed to be public space for people who otherwise couldn’t access the water,” Chambliss said.

With Brandzel’s passing, Chambliss and Friends of Street Ends members are hoping his community will honor Branzel and his legacy by getting involved.

Chambliss said volunteers are needed for three work parties this year at the Prospect Street Nature Preserve, which is tucked between the north boundary of the tennis club and 41st Street residences.

The first is from nine to noon on March 26. Chambliss said people should bring work gloves and their favorite weeding tools, if they have any. Other tools will be provided. At the upcoming work party, people will be planting about 100 one-gallon plants to supplement the existing plants, weeding and spreading wood chips for the paths and mulch for the paths.

“We are looking for new faces to help maintain these road end parks that everyone gets to enjoy,” Chambliss said. “For three hours every three months, they can make a huge difference in getting the preserve established and thriving.”

While Chambliss is temporarily coordinating efforts at the Prospect Street Nature Preserve, she hopes the upcoming work parties will attract new interest and breathe life into the shoreline street ends that Brandzel worked so hard to open up for residents in Madison Park and beyond. She has the same wish for the Madison Park community, as a whole.

“To me, the hope is someone in the next generation will pick up the mantle that Gene has created in caring for the community,” she said.

“I know Gene’s wish would be that the preserve is maintained and thrives for not only the next generation, but the generation beyond that — that he just literally planted the seed for a gathering place and the open access for the community there,” she added.

For more information on Seattle’s Shoreline Street Ends program, go to www.seattle.gov/transportation/stuse_stends.htm. To learn more about Friends of Street Ends, visit www.streetends.org.