Storyteller. Coach. Husband. Father. Born Jan. 22, 1936, in Heiligenstadt, Germany; died Dec. 5, 2016, in Vermilion, Alta., of Parkinson's disease; age 80.
Walter Josef Scholz was born in Heiligenstadt, Germany in 1936. He and his two younger brothers were orphaned shortly after the Second World War and they spent time in the Waisenhaus orphanage in Heiligenstadt, East Germany. In his early teens, Walter escaped to West Germany where he lived in a displaced persons camp and worked on farms. Walter made his way to Canada, alone, at the age of 20, on the strength of his skills as a dairy farm worker. (Years later he would become a leading farm training specialist in the Alberta Green Certificate program.)
After an arduous journey with, as Walter wrote in his memoir, "no money, no job, no English," he made his way by train to Alberta, spending time in the bush camps around Hinton, and then to Jasper. There he found the opportunities he was seeking: work, education and friendship. Walter returned to high school in Jasper, starting in Grade 9 at the age of 22. He worked for the National Parks Service in the summers, and trained to become a lifeguard and swim instructor. Faced with discrimination and wanting to feel like a real Canadian after becoming a citizen in 1962, he changed his last name from Scholz to Scott.
In 1964, Walter became the first Red Cross water safety instructor in the Northwest Territories. Walter's enthusiasm and commitment were contagious and he had over 275 registered swimmers in that first summer. In the summer of 1966, he swam out into a stormy Frame Lake to rescue a young boy from drowning and later received the highest award from the Royal Lifesaving Society of Canada.
Walter was also a masterful storyteller, able to bring together the comic and the tragic, extremes he knew well. As he learned English, eventually earning a masters degree in community development, Walter began to write down his stories in careful handwritten notes, in scrawled jottings and in letters – all revealed vibrant, insightful, sometimes dark and humorous prose.
Walter and his wife, Jan, settled in Vermillion, Alta., where they helped to break new cross-country ski trails in Vermilion Provincial Park. Walter founded a Jackrabbit ski club for youngsters, and their daughter, Beckie Scott, would become a World Cup and two-time Olympic medalist in cross-country skiing.
Walter was a fierce competitor in skiing, running and canoeing, and a much-loved training partner on the trails. Jan recalls that Walter would do 100 push-ups on breaks during road trips and once, during a camping trip, he frightened a man who went to use the outhouse only to discover Walter doing pull-ups inside.
Walter was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2006, and he approached the disease as he approached his training, with great tenacity. In November, 2016, Jan and Walter published his stories in the memoir, Indomitable Spirit: Stories of My Life.
Walter forged a life full of stories. Storytelling became his survival, became his education and became his life, a life defined by his strength, courage and hope.
Jennifer Stewart is Walter's friend.