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Big Wally, Big Memory

On January 12, 2010, I attended an outdoor memorial at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for a Ski Patroller caught in avalanche while doing snow control. The sheer size of the crowd, some estimated close to 1,000, spoke volumes about the man being remembered. His nickname was Big Wally, his reputation, legendary.

Big Wally’s real name was Mark Wolling. He had been a member of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol for 20 years. As he stood at about 6 feet 5 inches with a bushy blond mustache, he towered over most folks. His mellow demeanor, genuine smile and arthritic walk softened his appearance.

A spirited guy, Big Wally participated in every outdoor sport that a mountain town can offer. He kayaked, mountain biked, paraglided, water skied, alpine skied, you name it. He also had more than his share of wrecks. One particular paragliding crash left him in the hospital for quite a while. Despite all of his injuries, Big Wally kept doing what he loved as best he could. Although his walk was slowed, he never stopped smiling.

Big Wally also had a very big heart. He shared his time and money as easily as he shared his smile, despite his own funds being low. If you were out of cash at the bar, he would happily buy you a drink. If you were traveling with him, he would make sure you had a good time. Last summer he spent weeks setting up a stage for a fundraiser party known as Goatstock (no, not Woodstock). It was to benefit a friend who was experiencing health problems and was currently a paraplegic due to an accident. Several bands played, several goats were roasted, and food, beer, t-shirts, silent auction items and a raffle were all part of the event. It was impressive.

Many of the folks that showed up had stories to tell about Big Wally and all of his escapades. One thing that could not be doubted was his love for fun. “Wally’s World” was known “as a state of mind, where the fun never stops and all your dreams come true”. May we all get to experience Wally’s World someday. As Wally never stopped smiling despite his physical ailments, many of us think he existed in that special place he called “Wally’s World”.

Life is short, let us not forget to worry less and be in the moment more often.

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