Walter Crumm led what would probably be considered an unremarkable life, living in a boarding home in Browne’s Addition and spending his days in downtown Spokane. But he had something a lot of people might envy – friends who really cared about him.
He was about 58 when he died in July 1984 (his exact birthday is uncertain). He had a heart attack in the winter, but it was kidney failure that claimed him. Not a whole lot is known about this mentally disabled man’s background, other than the fact that he was abandoned at a young age at Lakeland Village in Medical Lake, later transferred to Eastern State Hospital and released from there in 1958. He lived in community homes the rest of his life.
He dressed in clean overalls and walked to downtown Spokane daily, where he chatted with people along Riverside Avenue, between Lincoln and Post. He always began with “Hi, I’m Walter. Are you my friend?” He smiled and was talkative and just lived for those conversations, said Ken Sands, the former Spokesman-Review journalist who talked with Crumm every week and who wrote a story about him when he died.
“Everybody liked him and treated him well,” said Sands, now an editor with Bloomberg Government, a subscription-based news website in Washington, D.C. “The downtown area was a community, and people watched out for each other.”
Crumm earned a little money by doing odd jobs, such as sweeping sidewalks for some of the businesses. When his health deteriorated and he could no longer do that, the assistant manager at McDonald’s on Riverside (Heroes & Legends now occupies that space) gave him food or coffee in exchange for putting out ash trays on the tables. That was when smoking was still allowed. Some businesses gave him gifts, such as the warm winter coat Pierone’s men’s store presented him one Christmas.
Crumm held court outside that McDonald’s and got to be friends with all of the businesses in that one block that made up his world. But it was when he had his final hospitalization and died that the depth of those friendships really came through.
Peters & Sons Florists sent flowers to the hospital and later donated a wreath for his casket. The McDonald’s staff bought him a new pair of overalls for his funeral and started a fund to buy a headstone for him. An employee at J.C. Penney’s, which used to be located downtown, bought him a new shirt. His funeral was arranged for by a counselor who had befriended him.
And his adopted family came to the funeral – from store clerks to a bank executive. Thomas C. Garrett, then a vice president at Washington Trust Bank, wrote in a letter to the editor that his friend Walter “taught us how easy it is to be gentle and patient with those of us who are less fortunate.”
Walter Crumm liked everyone. What he didn’t like was having his picture taken. So when his friend Jimi Lott, a photographer from The Spokesman-Review, asked him to pose for a picture, he agreed – but it cost Lott two cheeseburgers to get the shot.
One of Walter Crumm’s friends was quoted in a story about him: “Walter wasn’t too good at remembering names, but he never forgot a face – or a friend.”
His friends’ final remembrance of him is the headstone at Greenwood Memorial Terrace – on which his story of friendship is told.