Judith Waegell, a Sacramento County ranching family matriarch who made classical music as a professional cellist, died Dec. 7 of colon cancer, her family said. She was 74.
Mrs. Waegell played the cello in the Sacramento Symphony for 32 years and performed with its successor, the Sacramento Philharmonic. She played until this year with the Sacramento Opera Orchestra and the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra.
She started professionally as a student at McClatchy High School, lugging her cello from school orchestra practices to gigs at women's club teas and social events. She later taught cello to young people, whom she encouraged to play despite the difficulty in making a living as a classical musician.
"You can't talk someone out of it, you can't discourage anybody," she told The Bee when the Sacramento Symphony went bankrupt in 1996. "It's like an addiction."
Mrs. Waegell was married since 1964 to her husband, George, a farmer whose family raised sheep, clover seed, Sudan grass, hay and grain on 2,700 acres near Sloughhouse. She was instrumental in setting up bookkeeping for the business and spearheaded a partnership with the Lewis Group of Companies to develop homes on a portion of the family ranch.
She served on a Sacramento County advisory panel on planning matters in the Vineyard area.
She was active with her husband on growth and land-use issues in the rural, undeveloped community.
Judith Merrie Rowland was born in 1938 in Sacramento. Her mother, Bessie, was a secretary who graduated with a teaching credential from UC Berkeley, and her father, LaVerne, owned Capital Office Equipment Co.
She began playing piano at an early age and took up the cello in fifth grade.
"The music teacher chose the instruments for Judy and me because she needed somebody to play them," said her sister, Dawn King. "I remember Judy walking around with this big cello. I lucked out because I played the flute."
Mrs. Waegell graduated from McClatchy in 1956. She studied at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and earned a music degree from Sacramento State College. She had a daughter with her husband of 48 years and two children from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.
An avid gardener, she grew many varieties of plants and enjoyed hours spent digging and pulling weeds in her yard. She hosted garden tours and Easter egg rolls and was an active member of the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club.
Mrs. Waegell and her husband hosted many foreign exchange students at their ranch. They traveled to Iran five days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, spent a month in Albania and made lifelong friendships on travels to more than 30 countries as members of Friendship Force, an exchange program.
"When we had ranch workers from Spain, my mother would encourage them to take English classes and learn how to drive so they wouldn't spend their whole lives herding sheep," said her daughter Dawn Lawson. "She was always encouraging and helping people to reach their potential."