Ellen Friedman, a well-known and respected spa professional in Northern California, died June 8 after a long fight against cancer. She was 58.
“I knew her through the business for 20 years,” said Mike Dunn, executive vice president at Watkins Manufacturing, Vista, Calif. “My wife and I developed a personal relationship with her and her husband. She was one of the most loving people I’ve ever met. Her motto was ‘Love is all there is,’ and she lived it; she embodied it.”
Friedman was president of The Hot Tub Store, based in Santa Rosa. Dunn called her an exceptional leader, noting that her business won many territory and retail excellence awards from Watkins, plus the coveted Locksin Thompson Dealer of the Year award — and the Improving People’s Lives Award, created for them in 2013, in recognition of the store’s 40-year commitment to helping people feel better.
She treated her staff as if they were family, said brother Dan Friedman, store vice president. Determined not to lay anyone off due to the recession, she renegotiated the leases for the company’s five stores so they would be smaller retail spaces and no employees would lose their jobs.
Friedman grew up in Palo Alto and San Francisco, where she graduated from high school at age 16. She studied liberal arts at Sonoma State University, where she met future husband Danny Matula. They were married 41 years.
Friedman’s love of children led her to be a childbirth instructor and midwife. She also served 15 years on the Kenwood School Board. After her own children started school in the ’80s, Friedman joined her husband and his business partners at The Hot Tub Store.
In 1993, store founder Bob Wismer stepped back, and Friedman stepped in to take the helm.
In her leisure time, she loved to garden, cook and entertain — and musicals and singing were particular passions. When her health began to deteriorate in late May, a celebration of her life was quickly planned for June 1. More than 200 friends and family members traveled to her Sonoma Valley home. It was a poignant occasion, especially when she sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to the gathering. A week later, she was gone.
Friedman is survived by her husband; son Sky Matula; daughter Sierra Matula; granddaughter Kai; brothers Michael and Dan Friedman; mother Ann Friedman; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Honoring her wish, the family has established a fund to provide scholarships for Kenwood children in extreme financial need, so they can experience outdoor educational programs or music and arts enrichment. The fund also will present recognition awards to health-care providers for compassionate, dedicated service. Donations may be sent to the Ellen Friedman Memorial Fund at Exchange Bank, 2416 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa CA 95405.