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Obituaries / Margaret Wetzel, 1925 - 2008

L.A. philanthropist, leader in arts world

June 05, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Margaret Wetzel, a philanthropist and leader in the arts community in Los Angeles and Sonoma County who, with her husband, Harry, helped establish the Alexander Valley Vineyard, has died. She was 83.

Wetzel died of complications from Alzheimer's disease May 22 at her home, a restored Victorian on the vineyard property in Healdsburg, Calif.

Wetzel was in her late 40s, her four children were grown, and her engineer husband had risen to chairman of the board of Garrett Corp., a Los Angeles aerospace manufacturer, when she went from stay-at-home mom to cultural community activist.

She joined the board of directors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1979. The following year she was named president of the Amazing Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, a fundraising group with almost 600 volunteer women.

She also had a hand in turning the family's 110 acres in Sonoma County into a vineyard and winery in 1975. Wetzel planted a garden of about four acres and oversaw restoration of several local buildings, including a schoolhouse that she turned into guest quarters.

"If I had been born a man, my goal would have been to enter Georgetown University and study for the foreign service," Wetzel said in a 1980 interview with The Times. At the time it was an unusual plan for a woman.

She said she was just as happy raising four children in Palos Verdes Estates. "It's a short time, a creative time, a time invested that pays dividends," she said.

Wetzel got involved in volunteer work in part because her husband was caught up in it. Harry Wetzel held several positions at the Music Center, including vice chairman of the board of governors. "Through him I realized how much it takes to keep all this going," she said.

She had another reason as well. "A woman who depends on her husband for everything is a drag," she said in 1980. "A woman has to bring as much to a marriage as a man."

Born Margaret Cranford Kirkpatrick on April 30, 1925, in Hampton, Va., she attended the University of Virginia before she married Wetzel in 1945. She returned to school as an art history major and earned a bachelor's degree at USC in 1978.

The couple purchased land in the Alexander Valley with friends in 1962. After they established their vineyard and winery, two of their children joined the family business. Son Hank oversees the winery; daughter Katie directs marketing and sales.

Wetzel and her husband moved to San Francisco in the mid-1980s, where she served on the board of directors of the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

More recently they settled in Healdsburg, where they sponsored several civic organizations.

Two years ago, the couple donated $2 million to Healdsburg District Hospital.

In addition to her husband and two children in the family wine business, Wetzel is survived by her son John, daughter Sally Fallon-Morell, 13 grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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