10/6/1928 – 1/12/2023
Irmgard Conley (nee Honold), age 94, died peacefully in her sleep on January 12, 2023, in her Olga, WA home where she lived for 44 years. Irmgard had wit and charm and was a kind, loving, and compassionate friend to all who were honored to be part of her life. To celebrate her dedication to nature protection and carry on with her legacy of environmental activism, Friends of the San Juans launched the “Irmgard Conley Islands Conservation Fund” in her memory.
Irmgard was born on October 6, 1928, in Schwabisch Gmund, a historic town in southwestern Germany. After surviving World War 2, the scarcity she and her family experienced influenced Irmgard’s life to be frugal and to learn to be a seamstress sewing all her family’s clothes. She pursued her artistic talent by attending the Schloss Hohenbaden Art Institute, graduating with a degree in textile design and engineering. She immigrated to the United States in 1957, settling in Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion and worked as the lead designer for Eva Gabor Fashion Collection.
She met the love of her life, John Conley, a high-school wood-shop teacher, and they married in 1964. In 1976, John and Irmgard both quit their jobs and pursued their dream of sailing to the South Pacific islands on a sleek, ocean-worthy 36-foot teak sailboat built in Hong Kong. For more than a year, they lived a life of adventure on the high seas, sailing from one tropical island to the next, fishing, snorkeling, and making friends in every port. When they returned, they moved to the San Juan Islands—a place that offered peace and solitude, surrounded by magnificent trees and clear water, and a small community of friendly neighbors. They settled in the hamlet of Olga on Orcas Island where they found a partially built house they could finish together and make their home. They decided to split their time and spend the cold, rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest in Australia where it was warm and sunny until John’s death in 2000.
Irmgard continued her deep passion for conservation and environmental protection by volunteering with the non-profit organization, the Friends of the San Juans, making generous donations of her time, energy and funds for projects that restored habitat. Recycling was a high priority for Irmgard. She was especially proud of her multiple compost bins that created all the fertile soil that she needed to feed her other passion, flower gardening. Each spring and summer her gardens were graced with an abundance of colorful blooms.
Irmgard relished when friends dropped in for a visit. She cooked and baked delicious recipes from her German cookbooks inherited from her mother. Anyone who was lucky enough to be invited to share her wild plum tart cake or Bavarian torte experienced the pure tasty joy of her creations and her delightful laugh when friends expressed their appreciation. Even though she was fiercely independent, she always thought of others, their welfare and health—she was quick to jump on any opportunity to help someone as needed. She was a founder of the “Wasted Friday Afternoon Club” to lure revelers into taking a break from their busy work-filled lives to focus on good food, conversation, friendships and time-outs together. As she sails into her final sunset, we will carry her mischievous smile and unbridled spitfire spirit in our hearts, with memories of shared love and admiration forever.
We would like to thank her caregivers, Lois, Erica, Ken, and Dave, for the attention, loving care, laughter, and companionship they provided her during the last few years when she could no longer be independent. They allowed her to be able to stay in her own home until her last breath. She is survived by her sister, Utta Harrison, stepdaughter Kari Conley, stepsons Kevin and Steve Conley, granddaughter Jennifer Butel and great-grandchildren Gabriel and Lola Butel.
A celebration of her life will be planned when the fruit trees and tulips are blooming. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the “Irmgard Conley Islands Conservation Fund” at the Friends of the San Juans www.sanjuans.org.
Visit www.whidbeymemorial.com to leave a note of condolences or a memory for the family.