In Memoriam: Life of a Newspaper Man, Wallie Funk (B.A. 1948)

Wallie Funk, a self-proclaimed “newspaper man,” spent decades striving to improve the communities where he worked as a publisher, photographer, and local historian. During a career that spanned nearly 40 years, Funk operated and wrote for five community newspapers, including the Anacortes American in Funk’s hometown, and publications in Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island.

“Every week, when I heard the presses start,” Funk said in an earlier Department interview, “it was a new week, a new exciting week, and I never lost that thrill.”

Funk passed away on August 12.

He first enrolled in the University of Washington in 1941 to pursue a journalism degree, but then left school to enlist in the U.S. Army and serve in the South Pacific during World War II. He returned to the university in 1948, but believing he was 15 credits short of graduation, and not willing to “stomach another setback,” Funk decided it was time to launch his career in Anacortes. Six decades later, however, he found himself back on campus.

When Funk was elected to the Department of Communication Alumni Hall of Fame, he initially told them he hadn’t graduated. However, the school looked into his records and discovered otherwise. On commencement day 2010, Funk led the graduating class into the ceremony and received a standing ovation from the thousands in attendance.

“When Wallie came up to receive his diploma, I’ll never forget it,” Department Chair and Professor David Domke said. “He was moving slowly, but with determination. After I shook his hand in congratulations, he turned and raised his hands over his head with a big smile on his face. Everybody in the audience was on their feet and applauding. I was so happy for him.”

It was a well-deserved moment for Funk, whom colleagues and family recall as a champion of independently-published local media.

“His entire life, he saw a bigger picture,” said Connie Funk, wife of Wallie Funk’s nephew, Gary. “He was one of those people that was born with a visionary energy.”

Former coworkers and friends remember Funk as a dedicated journalist with a sharp sense of humor. He was also fearless; never one to shy away from voicing his ideas for community improvement.

“When he wrote an editorial with a strong opinion, he knew he’d be tarred and feathered,” Connie Funk said, reflecting on the public backlash that sometimes followed Funk’s work. “He has since been embraced by Anacortes as a historian and an elder, but years earlier he […] was almost driven out of town.”

Fellow Pacific Northwest historians said Funk’s stories helped shape the island communities. He also played an important role in establishing the Anacortes History Museum, the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner and McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon.

After selling the American in 1964, Funk and his business partner, John Webber, went to Oak Harbor where they published the Whidbey News-Times and the South Whidbey Record until 1989.

Funk worked diligently throughout his career to help fledgling journalists advance their own. Eric Nalder, a UW class of ’68 graduate, and the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes, got his start working for Funk at the Whidbey News-Times.

“Journalism in the state of Washington is better because of Wallie Funk,” he said.

A memorial service for Funk will be held at 1 p.m. September 23 at First Baptist Church in Anacortes.