Newspaper photographer Frank Varga dies at 66

CAMANO ISLAND — Frank Varga, known for his passionate commitment to the craft of photography during a 14-year career at The Herald and nearly two decades at the Skagit Valley Herald, has died.

Varga covered major breaking news events, including last year’s collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River. He also took special pride in documenting the everyday events of people’s lives, said Scott Terrell, photo editor of the Skagit Valley Herald.

Varga anguished over his assignments “because he wanted to take a photo that would communicate to the public exactly what the story was about,” Terrell said. “It didn’t matter what the story was, whether it was the I-5 bridge or a classroom full of kids watching an egg hatch. He would get as enthusiastic about either one.”

Varga, 66, died Friday morning at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett after being treated for a brain hemorrhage.

He was just months away from retirement when he died, telling Colette Weeks, the newspaper’s editor, that he would probably leave the paper later this year.

“Frank was all about integrity,” Weeks said. “He cared so much about what we do. He felt things so intensely. It was never just a job for Frank.”

Newsroom employees considered Varga not just a coworker, but as a friend, she said. Half the staff drove to Everett after he was hospitalized there Wednesday, she said. “He just made that kind of impact on people.” Varga was born on Sept. 19, 1947. He served in the Army in Vietnam where he learned about cameras and photography. Varga moved to Everett from Nebraska in the late 1970s. He met his longtime friend and neighbor Bob Schroepfer in 1978 in the photography lab at Everett Community College.

Varga started his career at The Herald in 1980, remaining until 1994. He was hired later that year by the Skagit Valley Herald.

Varga moved to Camano Island when Schroepfer and his wife, Amy Schroepfer, moved there in 1990.”Frank loved people and he loved taking pictures,” Bob Schroepfer said.

Weeks called Varga one of the most dedicated people she had ever encountered in journalism. “He was intense as journalists can be, and we loved him for it,” she said.

Herald photographer Dan Bates, who has worked at The Herald since 1984, often covered events with Varga, including Seahawks and Mariners games.

Before the era of Photoshop, Varga often worked with Bates on photo illustrations in the Herald’s basement photo studio. He had a knack for teasing the extraordinary out of the ordinary, Bates said.

“He made something really good when no one expected much of anything,” Bates said. “That’s the mark of a good photographer. He definitely was one.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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