Wallie Funk once said, “I have had very few dull moments in my life.” Funk, a newspaper publisher, arts advocate and a man who loved Anacortes, passed away on Aug. 12, 2017, at age 95. His family assumes his afterlife will be no less dull.
Wallie Valentine Funk Jr. was born in Anacortes on April 29, 1922, to Wallie Valentine Funk Sr. and Irene Brown Funk. That he died in his hometown more than 90 years later speaks to the grip its artists, fishermen, Croats, refinery workers and Anacortes Seahawks sports teams had on his soul. His favorite smell was of salt water and creosote at the port dock.
Funk’s interest in newspapering started early, in the mid-1930s. To pass the hours he assembled scrap books recording seasons of Seattle Rainiers baseball, University of Washington football and more. His first sports story was written after Anacortes beat Bellingham 3-0 in football. He wrote it by hand, then glued a splinter from the goalpost to his copy as a final touch.
Funk graduated from the UW. Like so many of his generation, he interrupted his studies to serve in World War II. He carried shrapnel in his hand from a small wound suffered at Leyte Gulf, but was otherwise uninjured.
The post-war UW was a remarkable place; its influence on a small-town man profound. Funk sometimes attended classes, usually journalism. His highest education came from the Sigma Nu fraternity, the UW Daily student newspaper and student government. As senior class president, he served with such future leaders as Wing Luke, Martin Durkan and Brock Adams.
Home beckoned in 1950. Starting a business relationship that would last until 1988, Funk and fraternity brother John Webber bought the Anacortes American, a daily newspaper with a circulation so small that the Associated Press didn’t bother charging for its service. Funk’s first editorial: A call for an Anacortes history museum.
Love beckoned, too. Mary Ann Ringwall was a high school teacher newly arrived from Waitsburg, Wash., and Columbus, ND. They met dancing at the Elks Club. But Funk nearly let Mary Ann get away. It was “Marry me or I go teach in Turkey.” They wed in 1954. Within three years they had two sons, Mark and Carl.
Funk was an unapologetic homer when it came to high school sports. Local referees once gave him an embroidered crying towel. He never got over the back-to-back state championship losses Lincoln of Seattle dealt his Seahawks basketball team. Said Funk: “I hated Lincoln … I hated the referees … I hated … the air … in the ball.”
Funk used the newspaper to advocate for his vision of Anacortes. The American campaigned vigorously for better schools, roads and infrastructure. If you opposed these good things (and the tax increases) you were a “no-good-nick.” Establishing the Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival was a very good idea, indeed. In 1961, Funk and lifelong friend Dr. Eugene “Bud” Strom, were in Miami Beach, Fla., to accept an All-American City award for Anacortes.
Not everyone shared Funk’s vision. In a town that could barely support one newspaper, a rival popped up. Coin jars were placed in taverns asking for donations to drive off the Four Fs: Funk the newspaper publisher, Fox the Chevy dealer, Fritz the radio station owner and French the city manager. Loss of advertising dollars proved decisive; Funk and Webber sold the American in 1963.
At the same time, the Whidbey News-Times came up for sale. Funk continued his newspapering in Oak Harbor. Each edition was loaded with local names and photographs. On deadline mornings, reporters raced to Funk’s home to pick up copy in what came to be known as “the pajama run,” because that’s what he was wearing.
Funk likely was writing about politics. The American was the first state newspaper to endorse Dan Evans, a Seattle lawmaker running for governor. Evans later appointed Funk to the Washington State Arts Commission, a post he would hold under the next two governors. Skagit Valley artists infused Funk’s life; Graves and Anderson, two of the so-called Northwest mystics, lived close by. He befriended so many others – Max Benjamin, Russ and Betty Frost, Phil McCracken, Ann McCool, Kevin Paul. Their works surrounded him until the end.
Funk’s own tool was the camera, a Leica or Nikon. He photographed NAS Whidbey sailors on the USS Enterprise’s deck. He captured presidents from Johnson to Carter; the Queen of England; the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; and hundreds of school band concerts. His most important photos, though, were taken in 1970 at the Penn Cove orca roundup, pictures graphically capturing the iconic mammals’ treatment at whale hunters’ hands. The photos remain in worldwide circulation, an internet click away.
A family tree of newspaper people started with Funk. Several graduated to the Skagit Valley Herald, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Everett Herald. The Wall Street Journal’s London chief’s first job was with Funk. Another alum holds two Pulitzers. Others rose to become weekly publishers in their own right. Funk presided over the Washington Newspaper Publishers’ Association, a trade group of remarkable publishers. He enjoyed traveling to their homes: Lynden, Port Townsend, Stanwood and Waitsburg. WNPA friendships extend into the next generation.
Upon “retirement,” Funk turned to local causes. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for history museums in Anacortes and Island County; Oak Harbor’s community playhouse, LaConner’s Museum of Northwest Art; and, on the waterfront, the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing &Technology. Almost every Anacortes High School class from the mid-1930s to the early 1970s regarded Funk as an honorary member.
Funk was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Ann; and two brothers, Jim and Charlie Funk. He is survived by his sons, Mark and Carl; their wives, Pam McGaffin and Mara Funk; and grandsons, Casey and Charlie. The family sends out a special thank you to San Juan Rehabilitation’s staff, particularly Agnes Haller, whose friendship extended beyond care.
Funk was honored recently at Western Washington University, where thousands of his historic photographs have a home. He talked with the school’s communications students. He told them, “Don’t send flowers when I pass. Simply being here today, with you, is all the memorial I need.”
The family suggests honoring Funk’s memory by subscribing to a newspaper (weekly, daily, doesn’t matter); buying a copy of “Funk’s Pictures of the Past: Celebrating 125 Years of Anacortes History,” proceeds going to the Anacortes History Museum; or, donating to the WNPA’s Wallie Funk scholarship, which meets expenses for reporting interns covering the state Legislature.
A memorial service for Wallie will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at the First Baptist Church in Anacortes, with a reception following the service.
Arrangements are in the care of Evans Funeral Chapel of Anacortes, Wash. To share a memory of Wallie, please sign the online guest register at www.evanschapel.com