South End mourns passing of Eva Mae Gabelein

Eva Mae and Ray Gabelein work in their booth at the county fair. The pair were longtime helpers at the island
Eva Mae and Ray Gabelein work in their booth at the county fair. The pair were longtime helpers at the island's big annual event.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Gabelein family

Born and raised on Whidbey Island, Eva Mae Gabelein loved the country feel of the island and the glorious view from her window.

“The mountains are just beautiful,” she would say when one of her children would call to see how she was doing.

It’s one of their mother’s familiar phrases that comes immediately to mind for her children. One of South Whidbey’s most beloved and involved community members, Eva Mae Gabelein died peacefully on June 11.

To many, her passing comes as a shock. Even though she had been battling a variety of health problems for years, she would never complain and few knew.

Her children recalled how she worried about everyone’s safety, but never wanted anyone to worry about her.

In fact, Gary Gabelein remembers the last lecture he got from his mother, just weeks ago, after he was hurt and needed some stitches.

“With a serious look she said: ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’” Gary Gabelein recalled.

People who saw her out and about might not have known that the active senior had health worries.

Until just before she was admitted to the hospital, she kept busy at the Bayview Senior Center, walking her beloved poodle Muffin, gardening, or having a good time at a social event.

She was always busy, her children said, remembering how she took the senior bus tour to Seattle in May to see the Mariners play. She was an avid Mariners fan and tuned in to all the games.

Dancing and socializing was another favorite past-time. Just a few weeks ago, Donna Richardson picked her up for a night out with the Red Hat Society gals, said Richardson, a close friend for more than 45 years.

There are only a few people on the island who weren’t directly or indirectly touched by Gabelein’s lifetime of dedication to the community.

She was well-known for “giving so much and asking for so little,” said daughter Bonnie Altenburg.

Everybody seemed to know her.

“It was like walking with a celebrity,” said daughter-in-law Laurie Gabelein.

Gabelein was an active volunteer in the South Whidbey community. She was especially dedicated to projects for young people.

Albert Gabelein said his mother loved young people and deeply cared about their futures.

As PTA president, she helped organize many school activities and fundraisers. Education, hard work and commitment were principles she held in high esteem, and things she shared not only her own five children, but with scores of friends and relatives.

The family would take in struggling youngsters and make sure they finished high school. And the Gabelein farm was the summer home for many South End children over the years. Camps seemed to spring up from nowhere.

“Breakfast in the summer meant 20 people,” said her son Ray Gabelein Jr. “Kids just showed up. People gravitated toward her.”

Gabelein and her late husband Ray Sr. founded the South Whidbey Centaurs Horse 4-H Club and were leaders of the club for 16 years. The 4-H work combined two of her favorite worlds; animals and young people.

“They believed that the responsibility of taking care of an animal would keep kids out of trouble,” said her daughter Sandy Marshall.

“Mom could have written the book on the Golden Rules,” Altenburg said. Treat other like you want to be treated, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.

She accepted everyone and passed no judgement. And she never complained and was a content, happy person.

The county fair is also a part of Whidbey life that was shaped by Gabelein’s involvement.

She was involved in Island County Fair as a 4-H leader, fair association member, fair board member and as entertainment chairwoman.

The Gabelein children recalled how their mother, a country music fan, would listen through stacks of rock’n’roll tapes to pick out bands for dances or the fair. She managed to attract entertainers — who often agreed to play for a smaller fee — just because they liked the atmosphere.

“People could not say no to her,” Ray Gabelein Jr. said.

For her outstanding job with entertainment for the fair, the Midway stage at the fairgrounds was named for her when she retired. She and her husband also established the Antique Barn exhibit at the fairgrounds and enjoyed greeting and visiting with friends and fair visitors as they came through the barn. The couple was honored as “Grand Marshal” of the fair parade for two years.

Gabelein and husband Ray also organized teenage dances at the Bayview Hall for over 15 years. On Saturday nights each summer, they chaperoned hundreds of young people.

They also served as volunteer managers of the hall and led efforts to restore the building so that it could be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva Mae Gabelein was a proprietary member of the Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club and was president of the Ladies Auxiliary.

She organized the annual Easter egg hunt for hundreds of children, buying, boiling, coloring and hiding eggs, Marshall said.

Gabelein worked on the local elections board and served as secretary for Diking and Drainage District 1. She was also a member of the Daughters of Norway and American Legion Post 141.

Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were the light of her life. Her favorite times were Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve at the farm, surrounded by her family. Cooking and preparing for 20-plus people was part of the fun, and she would glow in the aftermath of these gatherings for days.

“That was just wonderful,” she would tell her children after everyone had left.

The funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, June 16 at the South Whidbey Assembly of God in Langley, followed by a graveside at Bayview Cemetery and social at the Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club.

Because Eva Mae and Raymond dedicated their lives to helping the youth in their community, the family requests memorials be sent to “The Raymond and Eva Mae Gabelein Memorial Scholarship Fund,” c/o Whidbey Island Bank, Freeland 98249. The fund will be used for annual scholarships for seniors at South Whidbey High School.

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