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Colleagues Mourn Death of "Wally" Windscheffel


Wally finished writing his own obituary a week or so before he died; it follows with our postscript about some of his richly varied life below:
Gerhard W. “Wally” Windscheffel
(in his own words)

“Born in Denver 15 September 1927; died in Grand Junction 9 June 2008 of old age, cantankerousness and myriad diseases. I am a child of the depression and the dust bowl raised in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. I am of German and Irish parentage which explains my somewhat unusual outlook on most things. I had wonderful parents and siblings and had no idea times were tough.

I joined the United States Navy on my seventeenth birthday during World War II and retired from military service in 1976 during the nation’s bicentennial. I always volunteered and chose the hardest and therefore most interesting jobs and loved every minute of it. I did not come back whole but the VA has taken very good care of me.

I worked until I was sixty and then shifted to volunteer work mostly for various museums. I was only fired once and that was a volunteer job and they took me back later.

Here are a few words on fossil work. Always look at all sides of a rock before throwing it down the spoil slope. Never step in wet bentonite with your good shoes on. Check the area for fossils before you poop in that spot. Do not collect hallucinations or cracks in the rock. If you pee orange, drink more water. Always carry the gear down to the quarry and let your partners carry it back up. Noseeums are not on the endangered species list. Noseeums are attracted to any brand of bug repellent. You will find the best fossil in the last minute of the last day of your dig.

How to survive and have fun in the Navy. It is better to shoot at than be shot at. Being chief is better than being seaman. Establish a firm friendship with the ship’s cook. Know your boss’ job better than he does. Choose the top bunk because puke is affected by gravity. Develop a brain that does not require artificial stimulation – coffee excepted of course. Study for the test. Your most important job is keeping the people, the electricity and the ocean all separate from each other. And lastly, don’t fart in a submarine.

On life in general. Select friends from all races, economic levels, ages, religions, intelligence levels and tell them all how much you love them. Try to at least like your relatives. Let your wife know in some manner that you really do love her and never forget her birthday or wedding anniversary – the newspaper will remind you of all the rest. Your kids are not going to turn out perfect, be grateful if they are even slightly likable. Great-grandchildren are the best. Be as green as possible in your life, but I think driving is still better than walking. Talk to your friends about what they might like to talk about, if you can, (my greatest failing). Let a dog or cat adopt you several times during your life. Protect children and animals at all cost. Veterans are frequently old, scruffy, ugly with parts missing and crabby but take care of them anyhow.

Now that I am finally dead it is all right to say nice things about me and if you care to send a donation to a veterans or animal group they would appreciate it. I do request that you try to make a difference by doing something personal that will make a positive difference.

My best friend and beautiful wife had nothing to do with this writing. I am sure she still loves me anyhow. Stay ahead of the posse my friends.”

* * *


Even though Wally did not say it, some of us think it should be said that he had a most distinguished career in the United States Navy with service in World War II on a tiny Yard Mine Sweeper preparing beaches for amphibious landings on Pacific islands and opening the Chinese port of Shanghai.

Following his discharge and a short stint in a civilian electrical business he rejoined the Navy and grew with Admiral Rickover’s nuclear navy participating in very risky secret missions throughout the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict and retiring as Master Chief of the Boat of a fast-attack nuclear submarine. He was no stranger to peril and has the citations and medals to prove it. We should all be extremely proud of and grateful for his contributions to our freedoms.

And, as if such strong military service were not enough, Wally met the rest of his life head-long with energy, enthusiasm, intelligence and thoughtful camaraderie. Most notable was his love of discovering fossils and preparing them for study by paleontologists. His skills and achievements are the stuff of legends. One of the best publicized of his many, many discoveries was that of a tiny, burrowing mammal that somehow thrived beneath the feet of gigantic dinosaurs 150 million years ago. Fruitafossor windscheffeli (named after Wally) was so small it could curl into a ball and hide beneath a U.S. quarter.

Last year he was nominated by more than 15 professional vertebrate paleontologists from across America to receive the top award to an amateur from the worldwide Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Wally became highly proficient at whatever he undertook. He was a wonderful story teller and an incredibly loyal friend. We agree with the folksinger Woody Guthrie when he said, “the world was lucky to see him born.”

In accordance with Wally’s wishes, no funeral services are planned.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Disabled Veterans Association, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado, P.O. Box 60307, Grand Junction, CO 81506, or the Wally Windscheffel Memorial Fund at the Museum of Western Colorado, P.O. Box 20000, Grand Junction, CO 81502-5020.

Plans for a celebration of Wally’s life are pending.

G. W. “Wally” Windscheffel grew up in Smith Center, Kansas and graduated from high school in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Postscript by George Callison.
Photo courtesy of George Callison.


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