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Walt Schillinger a family man who liked his work

Walt Schillinger and his wife, Donna, were married in 1949.
 (Courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)
Walt Schillinger and his wife, Donna, were married in 1949. (Courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)

Some people are easy to know.

And after decades of collecting friends and raising a family in the Valley, Walt Schillinger was one of them.

“Everybody enjoyed him, he was just an easygoing guy,” his son Curtis Schillinger said.

Quiet and nonjudgmental, Walt was described by family and friends as more of a listener than a talker.

“A lot of times he sat back and let people talk,” his daughter Gayle Johnson said. Sometimes they would work out their problems on their own simply by having someone receptive to talk to.

Walter George Schillinger died Sept. 30 at 75, leaving a legacy of service to his family, his job and his church.

“He didn’t want to be the big honcho. He wanted to be the guy who did the work,” Curtis Schillinger said.

Schillinger’s parents were German immigrants, and he grew up helping his family run a dairy farm near Mount Spokane. They moved to Spokane Valley when he was in seventh grade.

“It was just all apple orchards” then, Johnson said.

Schillinger told his children that growing up he could ride across the intersection of Sprague and Pines on his bicycle and not have to look in either direction for cars.

He met his wife, Donna, when he and a buddy saw her and her friend walking down Sprague and the guys offered them a ride to a bowling alley.

They were married in 1949 and were caretakers at one of their first apartments on Monroe Street where their rent was $5.

After saving their money they bought a house in Spokane Valley – the place they called home into retirement.

“He was a very ‘family’ man,” Johnson said.

Whether waterskiing at their Loon Lake cabin or worshipping at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Schillinger and his family spent much of their time together.

Even after their three children had moved out of the house, the elder Schillingers were regulars at West Valley and University high school basketball games where their grandchildren played.

“Half the crowd knew who he was,” said his grandson Matt Johnson, who lives in Portland.

“He would stretch himself thin, and he’d be at every event,” he said.

Hearing his grandfather’s truck pull up when he was a boy, Matt would always sprint into the yard to meet him.

When Schillinger retired, they would golf together as often as three times a week.

After Johnson received a golfing scholarship to the University of Idaho, his grandfather traveled to many of his tournaments and caddied for him at the venues that allowed it.

“Even though he wasn’t the best golfer, he was the best caddie because he wanted us to win,” he said.

Schillinger never forced his ideas on people, but when one of his children or grandchildren asked for advice, his answers always made sense.

“He was very confident, but he was very humble,” Johnson said.

Walt retired as an underground network foreman after 39 years with Washington Water Power.

He started as a teenager hauling equipment up to lineman.

“From there he worked his way up,” Donna Schillinger said.

“He just liked his work,” she said.

He sometimes took calls in the middle of the night, and worked on electrical projects all over the county, including Expo ‘74.

“There’s very few guys who worked for the same company their whole life,” said his friend of 53 years, Del Marsh. That showed what kind of guy he was, Marsh said.

Del Marsh and his wife, Betty, said they once attended a large wedding with the Schillingers where they were the only two couples still dancing when the DJ called for those married 50 years or more.

Adoring family members said they spent a lot of time on cots in the hospital while Schillinger had lung surgery before he died.

“He fought a good fight,” Gayle Johnson said.

More than 260 people attended his memorial service last week.

“To be honest, I think we have a very unique family,” Matt Johnson said, and Walt was the leader.

“He was a kind, wonderful man,” his wife said.