Volume 75, Number 51 | May 10 - 16 2006


Rowena Doyel, 84, Chelsea advocate, block leader

Rowena Doyel, a Chelsea preservation advocate and former president of the 400 W. 20th St. Block Association and of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, died on Fri. May 5 at Cabrini Medical Center at age 84.

In ill health for the past several years, she died of pulmonary and coronary complications, according to her daughter, Lesley.

With her husband, John, she moved in 1949 to New York from Winchester, Ind., and in 1954 to the W. 20th St. house just west of Ninth Ave. built in 1829 as a rental property on the estate of Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of Hebrew and Greek at General Theological Seminary, founder of the Chelsea neighborhood and author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” The Doyels bought the house in 1965 and virtually opened it to their friends and neighbors at Christmas and on Halloween when the house became part of the Safe Circuit system of trick-or-treat stops for neighborhood children.

“She was one of the people who worked so tirelessly to create the Chelsea Historic District,” said Robert S. Trentlyon, president of Save the Chelsea Historic District. Bill Borock, current president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, said her devotion to the council was unwavering.

A registered nurse, she worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s Neurological Institute, at the Rusk Institute and then as head nurse of Bellevue Hospital’s Men’s Rehabilitation Ward from 1969 until her retirement in 1972

Known as a feisty civic activist, she was an outspoken supporter of the Westway project, which was abandoned in 1985. She was a longtime member of the Friends of Cast Iron, the Municipal Arts Society and the Academy of Science.

Born Rowena Isabelle Diggs in Winchester, Ind., she was named after the heroine of Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe.” She went to Boston to study nursing at Peter Bebt Brigham Hospital, graduating in 1946.

She met John Doyel, also a native of Winchester, after he came home from World War II service in the Army Corps of Engineers, while she was working as a nurse in the local hospital.

“The story goes that she told my dad, ‘Yes I’ll marry you if you get me the hell out of Indiana,’ ” said her daughter Lesley.

In addition to her husband and daughter, her son-in-law Nick Fritsch and a granddaughter, Nora, survive. A gathering of family and friends will be announced later.

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