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Longtime Anacortes photographer left his mark on the area

Longtime newspaperman and historian Wallie Funk captured this photo of orca whales inside a roundup pen in Penn Cove near Coupeville, Washington in August 1970 – a practice that continued for years as the whales were displayed at marine parks. Funk died Saturday, August 12, 2017 at age 95.
Longtime newspaperman and historian Wallie Funk captured this photo of orca whales inside a roundup pen in Penn Cove near Coupeville, Washington in August 1970 – a practice that continued for years as the whales were displayed at marine parks. Funk died Saturday, August 12, 2017 at age 95. AP

Wallie Funk’s first editorial for the Anacortes American in 1950 called for residents to preserve local history.

He carried that message throughout his life, preserving about 100,000 images and other records and donating them to local museums.

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

Funk, a longtime newspaperman, photographer and local historian, died Saturday. He was 95. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 23 at First Baptist Church in Anacortes.

Between 1950 and 1988, Funk and business partner John Webber owned five community newspapers, first in Anacortes, then in Oak Harbor. During that time, Funk collected historical materials that he eventually donated to local museums.

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Wallie Funk, a longtime newspaperman, photographer and local historian who owned five newspapers in Skagit and Island counties, died Saturday, August 12. He was 95. Pat Adams/Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The materials included many of his own photos as well as those of other local photographers.

Friends and former colleagues describe Funk as a tireless journalist with a great sense of humor. He wasn’t afraid to share his opinions and ideas for improving the community, said Theresa Trebone, who helped catalog his collections and wrote a book dedicated to Funk that was printed by the Skagit Valley Herald in 2002.

“He advocated for many things on the editorial page,” Trebone said. “He was also on the ground to encourage people to make the community better.”

Funk’s editorials pushed for better schools, new fire and police stations, new cultural institutions and pavement for the city’s gravel streets. Some taxpayers were upset that Funk championed causes that would cost them money.

With public opinions came public backlash, Connie Funk said.

“When he wrote an editorial with a strong opinion, he knew he’d be tarred and feathered,” she said. “He has since been embraced by Anacortes as a historian and an elder, but years earlier he was tarred and feathered and almost driven out of town.”

He was always looking at the bigger picture and he saw that through his camera.

Connie Funk, wife of Wallie Funk’s nephew, Gary Funk

He sold the Anacortes American in 1964 and bought the Whidbey News-Times in 1965.

Local historians said Funk’s stories and editorials helped shape public opinion in the island communities. He played an important role in establishing the Anacortes History Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in La Conner and McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon.

He donated many of his personal photographs and collected historic images to three archives in the region – the Anacortes History Museum, the Island County Historical Society Museum and the Center for the Pacific Northwest Studies in Bellingham.

He photographed Queen Elizabeth, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and six U.S. presidents.

He photographed Queen Elizabeth, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and six U.S. presidents. He spent a week on the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, covered the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and captured on film the release of steam from Mount St. Helens a month before it erupted in May 1980.

Some of his most famous photos include a collection of shots showing the live capture of orca whales in 1970 in Penn Cove, said Ralph Munro, Washington secretary of state from 1980 to 2000.

“He did an amazing thing,” Munro said. “A lot of what the (whale captors) were doing was very secretive. They ended up killing several whales in the process. Wallie’s pictures had suddenly became the only real record of what happened.”

Munro credited Funk’s photos with helping to create state policy against the capture of orcas.

Ruth Steele, archivist for the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, said Funk’s impact as a photojournalist stretched far and wide.

“There is a lot to learn with what Wallie did and how engaged he was,” Steele said.

The center, which has about 50,000 prints and negatives of Funk’s, had a hard time deciding which photos to display during a Western Washington University exhibit of his work last year, Steele said.

“You have the whale capture images that are haunting,” she said. “You also have the ordinary images of people in the community like a young boy and a bird cage that are also stunning … It was hard to choose.”

Paul Cocke, Western Washington University communications director, was an editor at the Anacortes American from 2001 to 2003. He said the best part of working there was getting to see Funk when he stopped by once a week.

“I’ve said this several times before, but he was one of the truly remarkable people I’ve met in my lifetime,” Cocke said. “His fingerprints in a positive way are all over Skagit and Island counties.”

Bret Lunsford, Anacortes History Museum maritime and education curator, worked frequently with Funk over the years. The museum houses an extensive collection of Funk’s historical materials.

Funk helped found the museum in 1958.

He and Lunsford first met in the early 1980s when Lunsford was the editor of the Anacortes High School newspaper.

“Wallie played a mentor role to many people,” Lunsford said. “I remember sitting next to him at a school reunion while he signed copies of his book for a long line of people. He recognized nearly everyone in that line and had genuine conversations hours after hour.”

Connie Funk said it’s hard to adequately describe her uncle-in-law.

“All the cliches don’t even scratch the surface of the human being Wallie was,” she said. “He had a humanitarian core. He was always looking at the bigger picture and he saw that through his camera.”

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