Laura Zalesky, who with her husband, Phil Zalesky, was a champion of wilderness protection, died last month in Everett. The couple pushed for creation of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and North Cascades National Park. Phil Zalesky died in 2013.

Laura Zalesky was private face of park land preservation

Laura Zalesky felt more at home watching birds in the woods than she ever did in an environmental meeting.

Yet with her husband, Phil Zalesky, who died in 2013, she was a quiet but effective force in a group that fought to create the Glacier Peak Wilderness and North Cascades National Park.

A longtime second-grade teacher at Everett’s Silver Lake Elementary School, Laura Zalesky died May 18. She was 92.

She leaves a legacy of concern for wild places and future generations, and many friends and loved ones.

“She was a wonderful lady,” said Cherie Nauch, a niece who lives in Arizona. “At family get-togethers, the kids loved being with her. She’d keep us all laughing and interested.”

Nauch, 69, cherishes her childhood memory of a week spent at Mount Rainier with her aunt and uncle, who had no children. Phil Zalesky, a history teacher at Everett’s Cascade High School, worked in the national park that summer.

“Aunt Laura would take me on little hiking trips,” Nauch recalled. “She’d have treats, and say, ‘Have this little candy bar, you’ll be able to walk farther.’ ”

Marc Bardsley, of Snohomish, knew Phil and Laura Zalesky through the North Cascades Conservation Council. Formed in 1957, that group won heated political battles in its drive to preserve the rugged 572,000-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness, which includes parts of Snohomish, Skagit and Chelan counties and the scenic 10,541-foot peak. It also worked to create North Cascades National Park.

“She did a lot of work behind the scenes,” said Bardsley, a past president of the group and now its secretary.

“I’m still involved doing her old job. She kept track of all the membership. It’s a lot of work, and she never said a thing about it,” Bardsley said.

He remembers Laura Zalesky graciously hosting the group at the couple’s Eastmont area home. “When she’d come over here, she liked to watch the birds out our window,” Bardsley said.

Elliott and Laurel Cheap, of Lake Stevens, were close friends of the Zaleskys who helped the couple in their elder years. Elliott Cheap taught at Cascade with Phil Zalesky.

“Even though she was a strong, capable, intelligent woman, she was very comfortable with letting Phil be the public face,” Elliott Cheap said. “They were a very dynamic team.”

Laura Zalesky headed the Snohomish Wetlands Alliance, Elliott Cheap recalled. A group that grew out of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, the alliance raised concerns about development of the Snohomish River estuary. Working with Snohomish County, the group pushed for grant money to purchase land for preservation.

Laurel Cheap recalled Laura Zalesky being part of the first committee that helped make expenditure decisions for the county’s Conservation Futures program.

After retirement, Laura Zalesky devoted much of her time to the Assistance League of Everett and the League of Women Voters.

The couple traveled often to the Klamath Falls, Oregon, area, where Laura Zalesky was born in 1924. They had property in Klamath Falls, where they loved to go canoeing and bird watching.

Laura Zalesky, the daughter of Warner and Laura Kimball, was one of five children. She and her husband of 68 years met during World War II and married in 1945. She worked on a Sno-Isle Libraries bookmobile before earning two degrees from Western Washington University.

After retirement, they hiked in Europe and New Zealand. And they were honored by the Cascade Land Conservancy, now Forterra, with its first Phil and Laura Zalesky Lifetime Achievement Award.

Historian Louise Lindgren, of Index, wrote a 2010 essay about the Zaleskys for the HistoryLink website. She called the couple’s advocacy for open space “some of the most important Pacific Northwest environmental efforts of the 20th century.”

Lindgren interviewed the couple together and spent time with Laura Zalesky after Phil’s death.

“A lot of confrontational things were going on when they were trying to save the North Cascades National Park land,” Lindgren said. “When tempers would rise, she would be the one to inject whatever words were needed to calm things down. She was a fantastic person.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Celebration of life

A celebration of Laura Zalesky’s life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2913 West Marine View Drive, Everett. Donations in her name may be made to the North Cascades Conservation Council, Olympic Park Associates or Pilchuck Audubon Society.

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