Norma Jean Denzer was born on December 23, 1928 in Renton, Washington, to James E. Denzer and Ethel MacDonald Denzer. She died peacefully on July 10, 2017, attended by friends and family, in the Renton home that she shared with her husband Alex for over 60 years. Norma leaves behind a loving family in her brother, James M. Denzer; three children, Robert (Mary), Crissa, Cathy (Sean); and two grandchildren, Alexander Anthony Cugini O’Neill and Isabel Josephine Cugini O’Neill. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband Alex, in 2016.
Norma Jean Denzer attended Renton High School, where she met her future husband as a freshman in the Camera Club. After her graduation in 1946, Norma joined Alex at the University of Washington in Seattle. They were married at St. Anthony’s church in Renton on September 10, 1955, after his return from service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. They moved into their first and only home, on Renton Hill, in July of 1956.
Before her marriage, Norma worked at Peoples Bank in Renton. She was an expert in the disappearing art of Gregg shorthand, which remained useful to her throughout her life. Although after her marriage she focused primarily on home and community life, she never lost her interest in banking. Together with other Renton community leaders, she was a founding board member of Community Bank of Renton, and later served for a period of time as its President. When Community Bank of Renton was acquired by West One Bank, she then joined the board of West One, serving as one of its first women board members.
Norma was known for her steady leadership of and dedicated service to a wide range of civic and community groups, like Renton Rotary’s annual C.A.P.E.R. auctions, the Renton Civil Service Commission, Renton Technical College Foundation (where she launched the “Celebrity Chefs Series” to raise funds for student scholarships), the Renton Community Foundation (of which she was a founding board member), the Downtown Renton Association, and the Renton Piazza Committee. She was an expert at raising funds and gathering support for organizations and causes that she believed in.
A longtime supporter of the performing arts throughout the region, Norma served on the Board of Directors of Seattle Opera, as a President of the Seattle Opera Guild, as one of the founding Trustees of Pacific Northwest Ballet, and later as a Trustee Emeritus of PNB. In 2003, she and Alex worked to raise funds for the opening of the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, near the high school campus where they first met. She was also a strong supporter of the visual arts: Norma co-founded the Renton Annual Art Show (now part of Renton River Days) and served on the Renton Municipal Arts Commission. In 2013, her family established the “Norma Denzer Cugini Emerging Artist Award,” to be given to a promising young artist as part of the Renton Annual Art Show, to honor her encouragement of new talent.
Beyond the arts, Norma remained a fierce advocate for local charitable organizations throughout her life: she helped to raise funds to build and sustain the Mt. Rainier Kidney Center (for local dialysis patients); she was a dedicated supporter of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center; and she co-chaired the capital campaign that made possible the Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank. Many may recall seeing her at The Landing in recent years, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas.
Norma was grateful for the honor of being named “Renton Citizen of the Year” in 2008 and a Distinguished Alumna of Renton High School in 2013. Together with Alex, she was recognized by the Renton Community Foundation in 2015 with a Lifetime of Giving Award.
Norma and Alex loved to travel and shared a gift and an enthusiasm for maintaining active friendships throughout the world. In the 1970’s, Norma traveled with a group of businesswomen from Washington State as one of the first American groups to visit the People’s Republic of China after the thawing of relations. Even in her later years, when travel became more challenging, she never passed up an opportunity to visit family and friends in Italy or to cruise to a new and exotic location.
Norma entertained often at home, enjoying food, wine and lively conversation with her family and a diverse group of friends, many of whom she and Alex had remained devoted to since childhood. She was a wonderful cook who loved spending social time at the table. Those who knew Norma will have their own stories: about her generosity, her drive, her wit, her elegance, her strength, her kindness, her sharp sense of humor, and her fierce love of life. She will be deeply missed by her family, her friends, and the community she loved, in ways yet to be realized.
Norma was laid to rest beside Alex, in a private ceremony at Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton, near the graves of so many of her family and friends. Norma’s family has planned a celebration to honor her life on Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 at 3:00 p.m., in the Lake Washington Ballroom and Terrace at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Southport, 1053 Lake Washington Blvd N in Renton. All are welcome to attend.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to the “Norma Denzer Cugini Arts Fund” held at the Renton Community Foundation, P.O. Box 820, Renton, WA, 98057, which supports the Renton Annual Art Show. Donations may also be made online by selecting “Norma Denzer Cugini Arts Fund” from the drop-down list at www.rentonfoundation.org.