Persons, places and things: A portrait of Wally


By Barb Arland-Fye

His lifelong career and passion for photography began in the Air Force, which trained my Uncle Wally, my godfather, in that art. Wally, the eldest of 10 children (my mom, Mary, the fourth among them), became a professional photographer whose gift for portraiture leaves a lasting impression in many photo and wedding albums — including those of my parents and me.

Father Timothy Rudolphi movingly captured the life of Wally during his funeral Mass in a homily that interwove the Scripture readings and Wally’s love for both photography and his family. I couldn’t make the Mass in person on April 12 at the Church of St. Edward in Blooming­ton, Minnesota but watched the livestreamed Mass on YouTube.

Displaying a photo of Wally on the worship aid, which showed him with a camera, Father Rudolphi remarked, “He helped so many people to remember and capture special moments and important moments in their lives — whether it was a wedding or a baptism. All of you probably, especially the family, grandkids, have photos that Wally took of you that you cherish and hold onto because he saw something special as he took that picture and it is forever captured in that moment.”


My heart ached as Father Rudolphi made an analogy of Wally’s life work as a photographer with Alzheimer’s disease, which his beloved first wife, Aunt Patty, developed while they were still raising the youngest of their nine children. The priest spoke of the photographic process back in the day — adjusting apertures and F-stops and using chemicals in the dark room to bring images to life on paper. In Patty’s situation, the memories faded, achingly. I vividly remember eating dinner at their house one evening and watching helplessly as Patty, my godmother, made repeated attempts to direct a spoonful of food into her mouth.

“How painful it must have been for Wally, with his wife Patty, to see that beautiful life caught on film, gradually if you will, become overexposed and fade as her memory was lost to Alzheimer’s,” Father Rudolphi said. He described the difficult challenge Wally experienced, juggling the roles of Dad and Mom at times while caring for Patty and then when she entered the care center, visiting daily to feed her. “What devotion, what love. What an example for his kids and really, for all of us. What a sign of immense love and care, and I would not be surprised if Wally prayed our first reading (Isaiah 41:10, 13; 43:1b-3) as he thought about what he was going to do in those very difficult years.” Patty died in 1997.

Wally found strength in his faith and family, eventually expanding that family when he married his second wife, Dolores. He was an active volunteer in his parish in Richfield, Minnesota and for a nonprofit organization that empowers people to thrive in their homes. He recruited my mom to volunteer for the nonprofit as well. “We do not live for ourselves,” Father Rudolphi said as he concluded his homily, “but to do the will of God … To make Christ’s love known to the world, as Wally did by the way he lived.”

Wally retained his passion for photography, too, while also making lasting memories with his siblings, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Earlier this month, my mom posted a portrait of me at age 2 that captured my personality. The toddler in that image had her eyes intently on her Uncle Wally.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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