Wallie Funk donates collection to museums

Anyone who lived in Oak Harbor from 1965 to 1990 will probably remember meeting Wallie Funk at one time or another. He was the talkative guy with the 35 mm camera who always seemed to be anywhere anything was happening — whether it was a Navy ceremony, a duck tending to ducklings or kids playing in the snow.

Funk, former co-owner and editor of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, took literally thousands of black-and-white photographs of the community in that time, many of which filled the pages of the newspaper.

“A lot of people didn’t recognize me without my camera,” he said. “I took it everywhere. You never knew what was going to come up.”

After he retired, Funk found himself with a vast collection of images depicting life on Whidbey and Fidalgo, where he and long-time business partner John Webber owned the Anacortes American from 1954 to 1959. Add to that his photos of trips around the country and a collection he purchased, his personal archive reached around 100,000 images.

It’s a collection that will be valued by historians for years to come. Funk recently donated what has been dubbed the “Wallie V. Funk Collection” to three institutions — the Island County Historical Museum, the Anacortes Museum and the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington.

Theresa Trebon, a well-known historian who’s written extensively about Whidbey, worked for three years to organize and attempt to identify the photos. Funk said it was a “monumental effort” on her part, but for him, it was a trip through the past.

“It brought back a lot of things I totally forgot about,” he said.

While the bulk of the images will end up in Bellingham, Island County Historical Museum received over 1,000 photographs and negatives, many of which have never been printed. The pictures are largely of Central Whidbey.

Marilyn Engel, a volunteer at the museum, is already in the process of scanning each image into a computer, a process that will take at least a few more months. Someday, she explained, researchers will be able to search the archive, as well as the rest of the museum’s collection, by simply typing in a key word. It will even be accessible online.

In going through the collection, Engel said she’s found the photos to be a fascinating account of a place and people. For example, there’s a particularly “well done account” of the 1987 murders of two deputies in Coupeville. Yet she said the challenge will be to identify many of the unlabeled pictures.

“There’s a lot of interesting community things and a lot of people photos,” she said. “It’s a nice supplement to our general collection.”

Janet Enzmann, a volunteer librarian and archivist at the museum, agrees that the collection is a valuable asset to the museum.

“It’s tremendously important,” she said. “The man has been taking pictures of the island for years. His photos document all sorts of things pertinent to island life. There’s events, people and structure, both going up or coming down.”

Enzmann said there’s also a permanent display of select Funk photos on the second floor of the building. Her favorite is of cows in the middle of a flooded field. “I just love that photo,” she said.

Funk, now an Anacortes resident, said some of his most memorable images include those of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in Seattle, four different U.S. presidents, and a series of photos spanning the political career of the late U.S. Senator Henry Jackson. But perhaps his most exciting photographs, Funk said, are the ones of the dramatic 1970 orca whale capture in Coupeville.

“Those are the ones that really stand out,” he said, explaining that he still gets frequent request for prints of those photos. “I shot 10 rolls that day.”

Funk took photographs in Washington D.C when he was president of the Navy League of Oak Harbor. He snapped photos in China, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan when he visited as a member of the Washington State Trade Delegation.

Yet the bulk of Funk’s images of Whidbey were influenced by his philosophy of what a community newspaper should be. He focused much of his attention on everyday scenes. He captured tulips pushing up through the springtime dirt, amateur politicians giving speeches, old fishermen holding up their catch, children at play and school athletes competing.

In addition, Funk said he had “wonderful access” to the Navy in those days. “Whidbey Island was a tremendous challenge,” he said. “Especially with the Navy, it was a very lively community. There was always something going on. It was never dull.”

Funk subscribes to the notion that pictures can sometimes tell a story better than words can, which is why he ran images large and occasionally ran “photo pages” filled with nothing but photographs and cut lines.

“Photos were a very important part of the editorial product,” he said, “here at the Whidbey News-Times.”

The images created a hometown, innocent feel in the pages of newspaper. But ironically, Funk pointed out that his images include a 1970 photo of high school pitcher Robert Yates, who went on to become one of the nation’s most notorious serial killers. The photo was even used by the defense in Yates’ trial.

“I just remember a kind of quiet young man,” Funk said.

Like any good photojournalist, Funk was known to take lots and lot of photos. He said his former partner in the newspaper business, the late John Webber, used to razz him about the amount of images he took.

“He said I was the best thing that ever happened to the Kodak company because of the number of films I ran though the camera,” he said.

Nowadays, Funk said he doesn’t spend much time with his camera, but it’s still in his blood. He said he trained himself to see things differently, through the “eyes of a camera,” during all those years of peering through the viewfinder.

“Still to this day,” he said, “I visualize and frame scenes as a photographer.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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