My dad, later in life, would occasionally lament that he and mom spent too much time going to funerals — regretting too many of his neighbours and fishing buddies had died. While my Aunt Keitha, who turns 100 in November, always enjoyed a good funeral, giving her a chance to see and visit with people she hadn’t seen for a long time.
I could appreciate both their philosophies on a late September weekend as I attended a memorial service for a long-time friend and former co-worker, Stan Wales of Cranbrook, B.C. There were probably about 150 to 200 people, including Stan’s own large family, packed into a conference room at a Cranbrook hotel to celebrate the life of this ordinary working guy and family man whose only real claim to fame during his 88 years is that he touched the lives of a lot of people in a good and meaningful way.
I first met Stan about 43 years ago when we both joined a project co-ordinated by the B.C. Forest Service. The provincially and federally funded Agriculture and Rural Development Agreement (ARDA) project that lasted several years, involved spending money to improve quality and management of Crown range grazing land through the East Kootenay region of the Rocky Mountain Trench. It was a job I just lucked into as I took a break from my newspaper career. I knew absolutely nothing about Crown range, trees and grass, so I was hired as timekeeper. I was equally qualified for that job, since I naturally seemed to be poor with numbers and math.
Stan on the other hand, in his mid-40s, had spent virtually all of his adult life working in the forest industry. He worked in logging camps, had his own logging company for a while, for many years operated a portable sawmill at his small farm near Wycliffe, B.C., raised a few cattle and horses and just had an endless list of practical talents and skills all safely stored away in what appeared to be a photographic memory.
Stan was the foreman, the crew wrangler, looking after anywhere from 15 to 20 workers (perhaps more) at various work sites. The planners would make the plans on the type of range improvements needed — that could include building fences to create pastures, small logging projects, clearing land and seeding pastures, developing dugouts and water systems, installing cattleguards, even building bluebird houses and the list went on. Stan’s job was to organize the work crews and work with contractors on the ground to make these plans a reality. At one point over the years we even built a few elk corrals with the plan to capture elk in areas of denser population and transfer them to areas of lower populations. The 10-foot tall corrals, all built out of treated lumber were terrific, but I don’t recall too many elk getting transplanted. Surprising, since you wouldn’t expect a good federal and provincial government idea like that to apparently fizzle.
I don’t remember the exact timeline, but Stan and I both worked on the project for several years and then both got full time work with the range division of the B.C. Forest Service. I went back to the newspaper business in the early 1980s.
Stan was born and raised on a Saskatchewan farm during the Dirty 30s, coming from a family of nine kids. In his teens he headed over to B.C. and soon began working in the logging industry. Eventually he met and married Loretta Dilts who came from an East Kootenay “South Country” family of 12 kids. Together they worked and lived in different logging camps, produced kids and eventually bought a small farm along Perry Creek at Wycliffe, B.C. where they settled in and raised their brood of seven children. Stan continued to work in and around the forest industry, retiring in the early 1990s.
Retired, but certainly never stopped. He raised a few cattle and draft horses and even took a shot at raising ostrich. He loved music, played guitar and sang, and seldom sat down at a dance. He loved all sports, particularly baseball and hockey, and started playing golf when he was 70.
I learned he only went to school until Grade 9, but know he was widely regarded for his knowledge and wisdom. I’m sure under different circumstances he could have easily been a well-respected doctor, engineer, university lecturer or philosopher. As long-time friend and former co-worker Ken Gibbard pointed out at the memorial, back in the day there was no Google or Wikipedia, “but Stan was our Google. You could ask him anything on just about any subject and he probably knew the answer.”
And to ice the cake on all this skill, knowledge and ability he was also just a great personality. Always warm and friendly, great sense of humour, honest and humble.
I hadn’t seen Stan for about 15 years. One of those deals where I always had good intentions to look him up on trips back to Cranbrook, but I never did. I figured he’d live forever.
The memorial service was great. It was good to see his family all grown up — I hadn’t seen many of them for 35 years — and also to connect with former friends and co-workers I knew from a lifetime ago.
Stan is survived by his wife Loretta, of 65 years, and children Dick, Eldon, Cina, Anita, Charlie, Roxanne and Mavis. And there are also 13 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
He will be missed, but I feel fortunate I’m sure as many others do, considering all the nonsense, distrust and dishonesty that goes on in the world to have had a Stan Wales in my life. I’m sure if there is any note of music in whatever comes next Stan will be dancing.