(2009 WSB photo)
Family, friends, and neighbors are mourning Earl Cruzen, 96, someone who worked long and hard – and well into his golden years – to make West Seattle a better place. A memorial is planned next month. Here’s a remembrance sent by Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society:
The father of the famed Murals of West Seattle has died.
Earl Cruzen, a lifelong resident and longtime business leader in West Seattle, died Jan. 23, 2017, at his Duwamish Head condominium overlooking Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. He was 96.
Earl was perhaps best known for conceiving and executing the art/history project called the Murals of West Seattle, centered in the West Seattle Junction.
On vacation trips with his wife, Virginia, and friends Moe and Bonnie Beerman, Earl encountered historical murals in Long Beach and Ilwaco, Washington, and Chemainus, B.C., and saw their potential for drawing tourists and bolstering local business.
Earl launched the Murals of West Seattle project in 1988, and over the next five summers 11 murals by world-renowned artists sprouted on the walls of business buildings in and around the Junction. The murals, depicting scenes from West Seattle history, were funded by local building owners and matching city and county grants. Nine of the murals remain to this day, with a 10th repainted in a new location.
An offshoot, affectionately called the “12th mural” in reference to its original intent, was Phillip Levine’s “Walking on Logs” sculpture. Depicting children balancing atop driftwood, it is part of the West Seattle Gateway along the Fauntleroy Expressway and was dedicated in 1996. Earl led not only its development but also the hands-on maintenance of its hillside grounds for 12 years.
Several awards recognizing the Murals of West Seattle came Earl’s way, including, most recently, the 2014 Orville Rummel Trophy for Outstanding Service to the Community. He typically credited his mentors and partners and promoted the value of service to others.
“It’s not what you are getting out of life,” he said when then-Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proclaimed Sept. 13, 2008, as Earl Cruzen Day, “but what you are giving to the life in your community.”
The mural project capped a full life. He was born Earl Robert Cruzen on Sept. 9, 1920, and raised in what was called the Dumar area of the Highland Park neighborhood in the southeastern corner of West Seattle.
A 1939 graduate of West Seattle High School, where he was a newspaper columnist and editor of the annual, Earl attended the University of Washington for a year before joining the World War II effort by working at Boeing, testing airplanes before they were delivered to the Army Air Corps. Later during the war, he joined the Merchant Marines.
Earl started and grew his auto-parts distribution business, Cruzen Distributing Inc., near the Georgetown neighborhood, over the next four decades. He also served as chair of the Junction Development Committee, an umbrella group of the Junction Merchants Association, the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and West Seattle Trusteed Properties.
After his retirement, Earl continued his community involvement for 20 years with a variety of organizations. He volunteered at S.C.O.R.E. as a financial counselor. Underscoring his passion to help students pursue further education, he served on the foundation board for South Seattle Community College, establishing endowed scholarships for automotive students and in the name of the West Seattle High School class of 1939.
His involvement extended to the Rotary Club (downtown and West Seattle), Fauntleroy Church, West Seattle and Fauntleroy YMCA, Horizon House, Southwest District Council, the People to People International program for educational travel and the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, for which he was an Advisory Council member.
Earl was married to his first wife, Virginia, from July 21, 1943, until her death on May 2, 1998. Earl married Adah Rhodes on his 80th birthday on Sept. 9, 2000, and they enjoyed the Alki waterfront for his next 16-1/2 years.
Besides Adah, he also is survived by a daughter, Carla Friehe (Berend); grandchildren Katharina Rainis (Michael), Derek Friehe (Amber), Phillip Friehe (Justine), and Stephanie Cumaravel (Collin); great grandchildren Sebastian Friehe, Emma Friehe, Caleb Rainis, and Ethan Rainis; Adah’s stepdaughter Sally Crouch and Sally’s sons Garth Crouch (Nickie) and Scott Crouch (Yana).
Cruzen was preceded in death by his parents, Wesley and Ora Mae Cruzen, and sisters Bernice Tonkin and Vivian Floyd.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at Fauntleroy Church, 9140 California Ave. SW. Arrangements are by Evergreen Washelli. Remembrances in lieu of flowers may go to South Seattle College, the Rotary Club of West Seattle, the West Seattle and Fauntleroy YMCAs, or the Mural Restoration and Maintenance Fund of the West Seattle Junction Association.
Earl would summon a phrase from Joshua Green and say about the Murals of West Seattle, “When these you see, remember me.”
(WSB publishes West Seattle obituaries by request, free of charge. Please e-mail the text, and a photo if available, to firstname.lastname@example.org)