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Wallie Funk surprised with Lifetime Achievement Award

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Reed congratulates Wallie Funk on receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Whidbey News-Times. Funk was the owner and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record from 1964-89. - Photo by Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Reed congratulates Wallie Funk on receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Whidbey News-Times. Funk was the owner and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record from 1964-89.
— image credit: Photo by Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times

As he’s advanced in his years, Wallie Funk doesn’t get around as well as he used to. Sometimes rising from a chair can pose its challenges.

But at 92, his quick wit has hardly diminished. Nor has his warm smile, charm and charisma that tends to make people gravitate toward him.

As he received a Lifetime Achievement Award Thursday at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge to honor his quarter-century spent as owner and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, Funk rose from his chair and displayed a little of his humor to the full house that attended the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

When he sold the newspapers in 1989 and eventually moved from Oak Harbor to Anacortes, he joked it was necessary to ease the social engagements.

“I appreciate you and always will,” Funk told the crowd after it gave him a long standing ovation. “You say, ‘Well, why did you move away?’ I had to find a time where I didn’t have commitments for every moment of my life.”

Whidbey News-Times publisher Keven Graves, who worked as a reporter under Funk, honored his former mentor as part of the “Best of Whidbey” award presentation. He had invited Funk as a guest and Funk, unaware of the first-time award, obliged.

“I wanted to acknowledge the great contributions Wallie has made to the community and the newspaper,” said Graves, who was inspired by Funk in high school and began working with him at the tail end of Funk’s newspaper career when he became an intern at the Whidbey News-Times in the summer of 1986.

“He is the consummate journalist, photojournalist and publisher who understands the role of community newspapers. His love and respect for the people of Oak Harbor is unquestionable. His legacy is one of leadership through example. It’s fitting he be the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Funk said he was emotionally moved by the award, especially with it taking place in Oak Harbor.

The event was like a trip down memory lane with several familiar faces in attendance, including former Oak Harbor mayors Jim Slowik and Al Koetje.

Koetje, mayor from 1972-96, said Funk’s impact on Oak Harbor extended far beyond the printed pages.

“He was outstanding not only as a newspaper person but as an outstanding citizen in the community,” Koetje said. “That main thing he was concerned about was what was good for Oak Harbor.”

And that came through in his well-known appreciation of and support for the arts.

Funk recently donated a sculpture he purchased from abstract artist Richard Nash to the City of Oak Harbor, honoring the contributions of four Oak Harbor teachers. The sculpture was dedicated in a ceremony at Windjammer Park earlier this month.

Rusty Hendrix, president of the Whidbey Playhouse, said Funk’s efforts led to the start of the playhouse in 1966.

“Wallie was the one who gave the Whidbey Playhouse its beginning,” said Hendrix, who also attended Thursday’s luncheon. “He was on our board of trustees, which helped us get the money to do things and build fundraising.”

While giving of himself, Funk also got a lot back in return, particularly in the bonds he formed with many longtime friends.

Jan Ellis, Oak Harbor resident and one of the longtime organizers of Holland Happening, said Funk always had a way of making one feel special.

“He talks to you as if you were the only person in the world,” she said.

He said he was touched by the award.

“My thoughts are I am emotionally moved because I had 25 years here,” he said. “Every moment wasn’t a laugh, but so many were just great personal experiences.”

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