If you have ever admired the cherry blossoms at Normandale Japanese Garden, or strolled the pond and drum-shaped red bridge, you have connected with Bunnie Aaze.
Aaze (pronounced Ozzie) co-founded the Bloomington garden in the late 1960s along with close friend Yvonne Bublitz. They helped create the 2-acre oasis, fashioned from a swamp next to Normandale Community College and designed by Takao Watanabe, a landscape architect for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Aaze was a passionate gardener who helped put her children through college with money from her wedding flower arrangement business, said her daughter Lynn Aaze of Lakeville.
"She was the original Energizer Bunnie, that's true," her daughter said. "She knew how to get things done."
Aaze died May 15 at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul of complications of COVID-19. She was 90.
Aaze was born Elvia Arroyo in New York City on April 27, 1930. Her parents, Roger and Tomyo Arroyo, moved with their families from Puerto Rico to New York.
According to family lore, Bunnie got her nickname because of allergies, which had her sniffling and twitching her nose.
She met Clifford Aaze while roller-skating when she was 16. The handsome Navy serviceman, stationed in New York, was from Thief River Falls, Minn. They married after she turned 18 and moved to Minnesota.
Cliff worked for NW Bell Telephone Co., and the couple bought a house in Bloomington where they raised their family. Aaze was very active in the local gardening club and launched her floral business, Flowers by Bunnie.
The Japanese garden has its origins around 1964 with $500 the Bloomington Affiliated Garden Clubs received from Sears, Roebuck and Co. for a tree-planting project, according to Twin Cities writer Dave Kenney, author of the 2014 book "Normandale Japanese Garden: Celebrating a Dream."
"There's absolutely no question that two people in particular made this happen through the sheer force of will, and Bunnie was one of them and the other was her friend Yvonne Ticen (Bublitz)," Kenney said. "The garden was this woman's life passion outside of her family."
In addition to her daughter Lynn, survivors include daughters Roxanne Senne of Omaha, Karen Holcomb of Eden Prairie, son Drake Aaze of Omaha, sister Norma Roldan of Los Angeles, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A private service will be held.