Donna Walsh strolls through parts of the 22-plus acre Snohomish Chalet property. Her husband Wally operated the Delta Rehabilitation Center, known locally as the Snohomish Chalet, to help people, who, like their brain-injured son, need care and a good life. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Care and community were Wally Walsh’s passions

Living life.” That has long been a motto at the Delta Rehabilitation Center. Known locally as the Snohomish Chalet, the facility cares for people who have suffered severe brain injuries.

That same straightforward maxim — living life — was the approach of Wally Walsh, the center’s founder. Beyond his many years running the center and his advocacy for those needing long-term care, Walsh played an active and enthusiastic role in the Snohomish community.

Wallace J. “Wally” Walsh, whose family operates the Delta center, died Aug. 11. He was 84.

When the Snohomish Chamber of Commerce launched its GroundFrog Day celebration in 2006, Walsh was the first “frognosticator.” That meant divining springtime weather by interacting with a jumpy amphibian dubbed “Snohomish Slew.” In his top hat, Walsh kept up the annual tradition for several years before passing that torch to others.

He was active in the Kiwanis Tillicum Club of Snohomish and the Kiwanis Club of Snohomish, and worked to raise money for the Kiwanis Children’s Cancer Project, a fundraiser linked to Seattle Children’s Hospital. And in 2015, he and his wife, Donna Walsh, were grand marshals of the Snohomish Easter Parade.

Wally Walsh was retired from the Delta Rehabilitation Center, which had been his career since taking over operations of the nursing home in 1972. His eldest son, Chris Walsh, a former Snohomish City Council member, is now the center’s director.

Yet Wally and Donna Walsh never really left the Chalet. They made their home on the center’s 22-acre property. The Snohomish Chalet, so nicknamed for architectural touches reminiscent of Leavenworth or Switzerland, was far more than a workplace for the family. The couple’s middle son, Michael, has lived at the center for decades.

Now 62, Michael Walsh suffered a life-altering brain injury in a 1975 car accident. He is unable to speak or walk.

“Out of terrible things can come something good,” said Jay Walsh, 61, the youngest of the Walshes’ three sons. His brother Mike’s tragedy led to the creation of a brain injury program at the Snohomish Chalet, which now cares for about 115 people.

According to the Delta center’s website, Wally Walsh had served on the Brain Injury Association of America’s board of directors and with the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. He was instrumental in creating the Washington Health Care Association, which aims to support long-term care statewide.

“He was a people person. If anybody brought up a challenge, he was going to solve that,” Donna Walsh said.

At the home she shared with her husband of 64 years, she laughed remembering how a huge truck would deliver the box holding a little frog. On GroundFrog Day, Wally would hold the critter before the crowd to predict spring’s arrival. “It was the funniest thing I ever saw,” she said.

“He was very instrumental in GroundFrog Day, and took to it right away,” said Pam Osborne, manager of the Snohomish Chamber of Commerce. “He was also so involved with the Easter Parade, one of his real loves.”

Wally Walsh served on a community coordinating committee with representatives of clubs and organizations in Snohomish. “He loved to do anything that made our events better,” Osborne said.

She said Walsh was passionate about children’s issues. He worked on projects that supported a summer feeding program for kids, provided backpack donations, dictionaries for students, and bike helmets and car seats for families in need.

“He was a great dad,” said Jay Walsh, who lives in San Francisco. He recalled his father’s help on projects that included rebuilding cars, woodworking and hiking as a Boy Scout leader. For his work with the Scouts, Walsh was honored with the organization’s Silver Beaver Award.

His early life didn’t point to a career of providing care. Born Feb. 18, 1932, in Longview, he was the son of a sawmill owner. By the early 1950s, he was in the Navy and served on several submarines. He returned to the forest industry and ran his own lumber yard in south Seattle. Later, he worked in administration for Weyerhaeuser.

In the mid-1950s, his family, along with a doctor, purchased the former Aldercrest Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Snohomish. It became the nursing home that Wally Walsh transformed into the Snohomish Chalet.

Donna Walsh said those living at the facility are generally on Medicaid. “A lot of them were injured when they were young,” she said.

The Walshes have worked to make the Chalet a real home. The nonprofit Delta Foundation helps provide outings, Christmas gifts and other extras at the center.

“Wally would say, ‘They are not clients. They are not residents. They are people,’” Donna Walsh said. “He was adamant that they are living life.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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