June 8, 1944 — Jan. 2, 2014
Longtime Walla Walla resident Walter J. Gary passed away peacefully at his home on Jan. 2, 2014, after a year-long illness at the age of 69. He was born at home to Mary and Dr. Walter J. Gary, delivered by his father, on June 8, 1944, in Flower Hill, N.Y. During the Vietnam War, he volunteered for duty and served in the regular U.S. Army with the 172nd Infantry Brigade. He graduated from Oregon State University with a B.A., and a B.S and from the University of Nebraska with a M.S. and Ph.D. in entomology, along with board certification. During his 34-year professional career, he began working for USDA in N.Y., then for the University of Nebraska and then for Washington State University, here in Walla Walla. He also served three terms on the WSU faculty senate. During his 25 years at WSU extension, Walt’s professional crop experience ranged from alfalfa seed to tree fruits to vegetables to wine grapes to wheat. He received 26 professional awards for his work as an educator at the local, state, western U.S. and national levels, including the distinguished service award from NACAA, the national county agent association.
His passion for Pacific Northwest history and love of the history of the West were widely recognized. He was a member of numerous state historical societies in the West. Walt sat on the board of directors of the Fort Walla Walla Museum from 1995-2000, chairman from 1997-1998. He initiated an annual fund drive there that now produces over $40,000 for them yearly. During this time, he brought in a series of innovative programs commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition, and had Norman Adams do a limited edition print for them to sell. He raised funds and had an etched stone monument made to commemorate the first Constitutional Convention held in 1878, displayed in the window at 6 E. Main St. He also had the granite Mullan Road monument moved to Fort Walla Walla park. In 2000, he was awarded the David Douglas Award by the Washington State Historical Society for his efforts on behalf of Washington state’s history. In 2001, Governor Gary Locke appointed him to the Governor’s Lewis and Clark Trail Committee.
For many years, he was a member of Rotary International and served on the board of directors of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce for several terms, during which he founded and chaired its committee on agriculture and natural resources. On the tourism committee, his leadership led to the initiation of ecotourism in the Walla Walla Valley. Walt was instrumental in starting the Walla Walla Valley Grape Growers Association, publishing a newsletter and providing technical assistance regarding viticulture. This group went through the necessary requirements to get certified as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) here, the Walla Walla Valley AVA. This has been one of the most important building blocks in the great success of the wine industry here.
Walt was a long-time member of the NRA and the Waitsburg Gun Club and won a number of awards as a shootist. He was appointed by the Umatilla County Commissioners to serve on the board of directors of the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council. He was also a founding member of the Blue Mountain Land Trust. In 1999, he established a 4-H endowment, to increase the money available for scholarships awarded to 4-H youth here, by simply shopping at some local grocery stores. This fund will continue to provide scholarship money in the future for 4-H.
Walt is survived by the love of his life, his wife Marge; his two sons, Ryan and Sean; three brothers, Tom, Peter and Paul; and one grandson, Oliver.
Please donate to Fort Walla Walla Museum for memorial contributions. A small family service was held in St. Mary’s hospital chapel on Jan. 4, 2014, and a memorial is planned here this summer when his ashes will be put in their final resting place on Eagle Cap Mountain.