A renowned Custer-area dahlia farmer whose giant flowers graced windowsills worldwide died this weekend.
Friends and family remembered Walter Wynne, 72, for his work ethic, his warm personality and the huge, colorful dahlias he cultivated.
Walt moved into the family house at 1395 Willeys Lake Road with his bride, Cory Wynne, in 1966. He built the home himself, with help from a hammer and a circular saw.
Aging wires between the basement and the first floor sparked into flames late Saturday, Feb. 16, while Cory was out shopping. Investigators believe Walt was sleeping. No working alarms were found in the home. Walt died from smoke inhalation.
It's a devastating loss for dahlia lovers.
"They're known all over the world for their dahlias," said Paul Bloomquist, president of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society. "Some of them are bigger than basketballs."
Walt liked the big ones best. And he often served as a judge at competitions, so he knew what looked good. More than 70 introductions hybridized by Wynne's Dahlias - flowers with names like "Dapper Dad" and "Sundazzler" - were in demand in Europe, Africa, New Zealand and South America.
Some gardeners might dally at the thought of planting a patch of a few dozen dahlias.
"But he was always out there, in the pouring rain, digging 7,000 holes by himself," Cory said. "Walt was a farmer at heart."
She knew him better than anyone. They met when she was 17. They got married a year later. He was quiet, until he got to know you. Then he loved to talk fishing and flowers.
"He would probably ask you right now if you've ever grown dahlias, or if you've got a vegetable garden," Cory said.
She recalled how each year he would bring flowers to the neighbors, his doctor - anyone who might enjoy them.
"Dahlias are special, because they're about the only flower that blooms all summer long," Cory said. "So everybody got a basket of dahlias all summer long."
The tubers were stored in the basement for winter. All of them were lost in the fire. For the time being, it means the family business is closed.
A Facebook page for Wynne's Dahlias has since filled up with condolences from locals and people from around the country.
Walt's memorial is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the big red barn across the street from the family home. People are asked to bring photos of Walt if they have any, because many of them burned in the fire. Or you can email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.