A tribute to the Posy Patrol

Uta Zuendel will be recognized Saturday for her downtown Camas beautification efforts

Camas Plant and Garden Fair

The 18th annual Camas Plant and Garden Fair will be held Saturday, May 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in downtown Camas.

The event will feature 90 vendors offering an assortment of trees, plants, herbs garden art and furniture, planters, veggie starts, wind chimes, garden tools, birdhouses and feeders, flowering hanging baskets and more.

A Kids Zone coordinated by the Camas Farmer's Market and Camp Windy Hill will offer opportunities for children to plant seeds, make Mother's Day cards, paint ladybug rocks and learn about kid-friendly planting ideas. There will also be a petting zoo provided by 4-Seasons 4-H and Camas Camp-n-Ranch, and Rhys Thomas will perform a strolling juggling show.

The Boy Scouts will once again be on hand with wagons to assist shoppers with carrying purchases.

Plant and Garden Fair founder Uta Zuendel will be honored during a ceremony at noon. It will include the unveiling of a plaque, located at Northeast Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street.

For more information, visit www.cwplantfair.org.

It all started with a letter Uta Zuendel received in her mailbox more than 20 years ago.

Sent by an organization then known as the Camas Downtown Association, it requested feedback from citizens about what changes they would like to see downtown.

According to Zuendel, she later found out that 80 percent of respondents said: “Clean it up.”

So, that’s exactly what she did.

“The roads hadn’t been swept, the soil was spilling over into the streets. The ivy grew wild,” she explained. “I cleaned up the sidewalks, I cleaned up the windows, I cleaned out some of the buildings. Literally, with a hand-shovel I went around and cleaned up.”

Zuendel ended up doing even more than that. The letter that simply requested feedback inspired her to embark on a one-woman mission to beautify downtown Camas.

“We have a gem here, but right now it is totally lifeless, it’s totally heartless,” she recalls thinking at the time. “We have to do something.”

Zuendel, an artist who sculpts in wood, led the charge that resulted in the addition of cement planter boxes, 60 hanging flower baskets, 20 garden trellises, as well as banners and a “Welcome to Downtown Camas” sign located at Adams Street. Later, with her help, a fountain was built and bronze statue placed at Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street.

Camas Plant and Garden Fair

The 18th annual Camas Plant and Garden Fair will be held Saturday, May 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in downtown Camas.

The event will feature 90 vendors offering an assortment of trees, plants, herbs garden art and furniture, planters, veggie starts, wind chimes, garden tools, birdhouses and feeders, flowering hanging baskets and more.

A Kids Zone coordinated by the Camas Farmer’s Market and Camp Windy Hill will offer opportunities for children to plant seeds, make Mother’s Day cards, paint ladybug rocks and learn about kid-friendly planting ideas. There will also be a petting zoo provided by 4-Seasons 4-H and Camas Camp-n-Ranch, and Rhys Thomas will perform a strolling juggling show.

The Boy Scouts will once again be on hand with wagons to assist shoppers with carrying purchases.

Plant and Garden Fair founder Uta Zuendel will be honored during a ceremony at noon. It will include the unveiling of a plaque, located at Northeast Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street.

For more information, visit www.cwplantfair.org.

“I hand-watered the plants and flowers every day, even on weekends and holidays,” she said. “I designed a special watering system.”

Some of Zuendel’s efforts were funded out of her own pocket, in addition to a small stipend she received from the CDA. She also became very adept at requesting donations from local businesses. When she asked members of churches and other organizations to provide labor, they obliged.

She also developed working relationships with the city street crew with support from then Public Works Director Monte Brachmann.

“I did everything on a shoestring, because that is how I grew up,” she said. “We had nothing.”

Raised in Leipzig, Germany, about 100 miles south of Berlin, Zuendel described a childhood spent “living in rubble,” as a result of World War II.

She was, however, instilled with a steadfast belief that focused on taking action to support “the common good.”

“Because of my upbringing, I believe that everyone should do their part,” she said. “It doesn’t matter in what shape or form it is. If everybody does a little bit for the common good, it’s wonderful what happens.”

Zuendel moved to the United States in 1964, and in 1974 settled in Camas where she raised her three children — two sons and a daughter.

“I have to give back, to be able to be here,” she said. “I just fell into (the downtown Camas volunteer work). I could have given back in other ways, but that is just how it worked out. I saw that everybody was paralyzed. Everybody wanted to do something, but they didn’t know what to do and how to do it.”

Brachmann said city dollars were tight at the time, so the majority of budget funding and manpower was dedicated to essentials including streets, and water and sewer services. There wasn’t much money left for landscaping the downtown mall.

“Uta put in a whole lot more time planning, working and creating downtown landscapes and improvements than the (CDA) stipend dollars covered,” he said. “She was almost working for free.”

Even so, Zuendel maintained high standards.

“She was very particular about how things should look and how things were done,” said Brachmann, who retired in March 2010 after a 37-year career with the city. “She felt that the downtown landscapes were her personal areas, and they showed that. Whenever Uta needed funds or labor from the city to pull off one of her improvements, we always knew that the end results were going to be great. There was no hesitation to help, if we could.”

During those years in the 1990s, Zuendel became known as “The Plant Lady,” and later “The Posy Patrol,” as she scooted around town in her bright yellow 1980 Toyota pickup.

It was out of the back of that truck that she began selling plants and flowers she had grown in her own garden, as her 18-year-old daughter, Antje, provided activities for kids. Aimed at raising money to support downtown beautification projects, it led to the official start of the Camas Plant and Garden Fair in 1998.

The first few years, Zeundel coordinated the event. As it continued to grow, she recruited a few helpers including Ulrike Halverson and Sally Spencer.

After six years, Zuendel was ready to put the focus back on her artwork. Spencer and members of the Columbia Gorge Women’s Association assumed the responsibility of organizing the fair, which was later relocated to Camas High School. Then in 2014, the event moved back to downtown Camas with the Downtown Camas Association serving as the primary organizer.

Today the fair, held annually the Saturday before Mother’s Day, draws 90 vendors and 5,000 attendees.

During the 18th annual Plant and Garden Fair on May 9, Zuendel’s efforts will be recognized. A plaque is being installed at the corner of Northeast Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street, the site of a new brick seating area and landscaping. It will be unveiled as part of a ceremony at noon.

Zuendel, 72, said she is honored to receive the recognition and to see all of the positive changes her initial efforts inspired. An organized revitalization led by the city was jump-started in 2001. Downtown Camas is now considered a destination for local residents and visitors, who often cite the area’s natural elements as highlights. The thriving DCA, a non-profit founded in 2009, is a member of the Washington State Main Street Program and boasts a paid executive director position.

“It’s just incredible,” Zuendel said of the award. “But I tell you, I have my rewards already. I am so elated about what is going on (in downtown Camas). That was my hope to start with, and that is my reward now. Every city needs a downtown. It’s the heart of the community. It brings revenues and it brings happiness to the people who live here. It’s wonderful what we have, and I hope we don’t ever let it go.”

According to DCA Executive Director Carrie Schulstad, much of the visual appeal of downtown Camas today can be traced back to Zuendel’s work.

“It was Uta’s vision and efforts for the beautification of downtown, starting before the revitalization really took effect, that primed the pump for downtown interest, merchants coming to town, and increased pride in the community,” she said. “When you see visible investment in a town, merchants and customers have more confidence and are more willing to open businesses and come to town more often.”

Zuendel continues to live in Camas with her companion of 25 years, Francher Donaldson. She has seen the area evolve.

“There have been many people involved after me, to make that possible,” Zuendel said. “They could do things that I couldn’t do. People came and invested money. I didn’t have those resources, but I had me as a resource. And so, the hope always was that somebody would pick things up from there — and they did.”

Even after her time with the Plant and Garden Fair ended, Zuendel continued to be a presence, albeit a less visible and vocal one, in downtown. She worked for a time at the garden center at Lutz Hardware, has provided advice to local small business owners, and last month got her hands dirty volunteering at the annual cleanup event.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins commented that citizens like Zuendel have shaped the community.

“I like to think of downtown Camas as a park, maybe our trademark park,” he said. “It has places to sit, beautiful flowers, trees, a water feature and art. When you realize it wasn’t always that way, but needed vision and hard work to make it a park, then Uta stands out as one who helped make that happen.”

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