Amy Roberts: Remembering Wally Stuecken
One of my favorite things about having a niece has been watching my parents embrace their role as grandparents. Their sternness I knew so intimately in my youth has softened. Behaviors they did not allow from me or my sisters, they now find amusing in their granddaughter.
My mom and dad did not tolerate clutter — toys were not spread throughout the house. They did not provide other options should we refuse the meal that was in front of us. There was no such thing as cookie bribery. Their parenting style could best be described as a no-nonsense zone defense.
But this time around, it’s different. As grandparents, chaos and silliness and wide-ranging menu selections and cookies for breakfast are all acceptable, embraced even.
More than once I have been taken aback by their transition: My stoic and strict dad wearing Mickey Mouse ears and singing along to cartoons; my tidy and organized mom not minding the smeared handprints on her refrigerator, or the mess of pots and pans doubling as a hot tub for princess dolls.
My childhood did not know such carefree grandparenting moments. I did not have the soft, cuddly grandmas who baked cookies or the grandpas that handed down family folklore while pushing me on a swing at the park. Life hadn’t been kind to either set and it showed in their cool detachment.
But long before my niece Addison came along and I was able to witness my parents’ evolution into a more gentle version of themselves, I experienced the lovable, cuddly, affection of a grandparent.
Anyone who knew Wally Stuecken felt like he was their grandpa. He greeted everyone with a hug and a compliment. There was often a joke that followed, which usually resulted in an eye-roll from his wife, Lorraine. After almost 61 years of marriage, she’d heard them all before.
I met Wally and Lorraine about 10 years ago when they began volunteering at the hospital where I worked at the time. They took their volunteer shifts seriously, delivering flowers to patients, celebrating the birth of a new baby, offering what they could to ease someone’s angst. Despite being in their 80s, both Wally and Lorraine helped me build an organic community garden at the hospital. I began that project with little more than a fondness for strawberries. I had no idea what I was doing; the Stueckens stepped in to save the crops. They didn’t just point and give directions, they carried bags of soil, pushed wheelbarrows full of mulch, pulled weeds, researched which vegetables should be planted where for the best harvest, and made sure every plant got the right amount of nourishment to grow.
They did this with people, too. Wally always made sure he gave you what you needed to flourish — a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement — you could count on him to sprinkle you with sunshine.
If you didn’t meet Wally and Lorraine at the hospital, surely you’ve seen them collecting tickets from Sundance movie goers, making popcorn at the Film Series, directing people to their seats at the Eccles, or planting flowers at the Christian Center. Those two worked longer hours in retirement as community volunteers than most C-suite executives do in the prime of their career.
I remember speaking to Wally once about a volunteer need. He and Lorraine had already committed to another cause when I needed them. Instead of saying they weren’t available, they scrambled to trade shifts at another organization so they could help me. This wasn’t unusual. More times than I could possibly count, I watched them pour over needs and locations and availability and weave together a plan that allowed them to maximize their service to others.
When Wally passed away last week, Park City didn’t just lose a resident or a volunteer. We lost a compassionate, gentle soul; a human we should all aspire to be. We lost the grandpa we all wish we had.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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