In Loving Memory of
Ero (Steve) Stephenson Walli
Sept. 25, 1947 – Oct. 12, 2021
Marie Elena Walli
Dec. 25, 1945 – Oct. 30, 2021
It is with deep sorrow that we share with you that our beloved mom and dad, Steve and Marie Walli, have passed away. We are comforted knowing they are together. To know them was to love them; they will both be missed by many, and we are thankful for all of those who touched their lives.
Ero Stephenson Walli, “Stevie” to the ol’ timers and “Steve” to many, died Oct. 12, 2021 of complications from a stroke while recovering from COVID-19. He was 74. His wife, Marie was holding his hand, and he was surrounded by family when he passed peacefully in his sleep.
Marie Elena Walli, affectionately nicknamed “Mother Theresa” to many of her young friends, died Oct. 30, 2021, after a battle with COVID-19, complicated by bacterial pneumonia. She was 75 and passed peacefully with her children by her side. Mom didn’t want to leave Dad too long without adult supervision!
Steve, a fourth generation Alaskan, was born in Homer, Alaska, in the ol’ Harrington Cabin in 1947. His great-grandfather came to the area from Finland in 1891 to work at Libby McNeil & Libby Cannery. They settled in Anchor Point in 1909, Stariski in 1914 and Homer during the early 1930s where Steve was born. He was raised by his grandparents, Lillian Walli at the Homer Cash Store, and Hugh Watson at the Mercantile, who were both keen fisherman and encouraged his fishing shenanigans with many of his friends from a very young age. His grandkids teased him about being “ancient” because he was born in a museum!
Marie was born in Alice, Texas on Christmas morning during Christmas Eve Mass. She would tell her children about being put in a shoebox and onto the open oven door to keep warm after she was born. As a young girl, she and her brother Noe picked cotton in the fields and earned good money for that day and time. Even as a very young girl, she aspired to save her money and travel the world one day.
Steve grew up fishing Stariski, Ninilchik and Anchor Rivers and all over Alaska. He worked on his Grandmother’s fish trap as a kid and fished commercially for his grandfather and uncle where he learned that “those fish would be along directly.” He was also an avid hunter and raised his own children on a trapline, processing game meat, commercial and sports fishing and, filling the freezers for the winter and providing for the community.
Marie went to Catholic School from kindergarten through the eighth grade where she and her brother taught the school parrots how to speak in Spanish. When the priest visited, he was greeted by parrots that knew how to curse fluently in Spanish! Her family moved to La Mesa when she was a sophomore in high school and she graduated as a Texas Tornado in 1964.
When Dad was a young lad fishing the Anchor River, he met the famous General Doolittle who was so impressed by his fishing knowledge that he gifted him a lifetime subscription to National Geographic. He also won numerous dance contests and was involved in the physics feat of placing the Territorial Police car atop of the Homer High School roof.
When Steve turned 17, he enlisted in the Navy, finished high school in Jacksonville, Florida, went to flight school in Pensacola, became a navigator and then served in Vietnam. He received a Bronze Star and other various medals, including an Air, United Nations, Nation Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, Vietnam Gallantry medals, and was one of the founding members of the Anchor Point VFW.
Marie, also one of the founding members of the Anchor Point VFW, joined the Army straight out of high school. She served in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Virginia at the Pentagon in Military Intelligence and had many top security clearances working for General William Westmoreland, the Army’s Chief of Staff, and under President Johnson. She worked as an administrative specialist and stenographer at the War College, or Fort McNair, during the peak of the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1968, she re-enlisted. She had the choice to go to Alaska or Singapore, and lucky for us, she chose Alaska! Her parents frowned on the idea of their little girl driving to Alaska unaccompanied, so she conned her brother into driving with her. She purchased a brand new 1968 Camaro with a black racing stripe along the side, loaded all her belongings and she and her brother, Noe, headed north. Along the way, they spotted another 1968 Camaro with an Alaska license plate. They decided to follow them because they figured they must know the way to Alaska! The other 1968 Camaro was driving extremely slow so before long they decided to blow by those “slowpokes!”
Steve was in that 1968 Camaro on his way home from serving in the Navy. He and his Grandmother, Lillian Walli, were driving up the Alcan when Marie with her lead foot blew past him. Ma Walli said, “you watch, those yahoos will be in the snowbank before long…” Twenty-four hours later, Steve pulled his future bride out of the snowbank!
Mrs. Walli decided the boys would ride together and that she and Marie would ride the rest of the way together. On the way, Mrs.Walli told Marie stories about meeting the WASP Women who would land in Homer to refuel on their way to deliver bombers to Dutch Harbor during World War II and about how much she loved a woman in uniform. Then she went on to say, “You should get a three-day pass and come visit us in Homer!”
When Marie reported for duty at Fort Richardson after parting ways with the Walli’s, she was immediately called in to see her commanding officer who said she must have friends in high places! She was completely surprised that “Ma Walli” had arranged for a three-day pass to visit Homer, before she even had a chance to start work. “Ma Walli” played matchmaker and Steve and Marie were married just seven months later.
Throughout their 52-year love affair they taught their children and grandchildren to dance, tell the truth and tell it fast, how to work hard, that it’s okay to agree to disagree, that “freedom isn’t free” and to live each day to the fullest, not in fear. Steve and Marie would be the first to remind you to hold your loved ones close and take it one day at a time because tomorrow is not for certain.
Steve became an accomplished merchant mariner over the years, starting as a commercial fisherman and working his way up on various vessels. He ultimately obtained his 1600 Ton Oceans Master’s License and became an expert shiphandler, working OSV’s in Cook Inlet, tug and barge operations all over the Pacific Northwest and Ship Assist in Valdez, where he became famous for trolling up dinner for the boat crews. He retired to consulting and chartering and was sought after for his local knowledge and maritime expertise. He was humble about his accomplishments and would always say “you’re only as good as your crew!”
After retiring, he, along with his children, especially his daughter Erica, continued the tradition of fishing year-round and every day possible, passing the tradition on to Steve’s grandchildren and providing fish for folks by proxy who couldn’t get out on the water.
Marie was involved in civil affairs throughout her life. She began the legwork of forming a school district for the Whittier/Cordova/Prince William Sound area, when she was raising her children in the Begich Towers in Whittier, Alaska. Marie would continue in public service, beginning on the school board and then serving 10 years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. She was also involved with the road board and for many years with the South Peninsula Hospital Board.
Steve was known for being wild and crazy in his younger days with many cab rides home. For the last 20+ years, he continued to live life to its fullest while being an example that a happy life is not dependent on “beer and whiskey.” He would hangout and toast with his comrades with a bottle of O’Doul’s and cheer a good day of fishing or hunting!
Steve and Marie took loving your neighbor seriously. Neighborhood potluck parties, card playing, music and games were a thing! Everyone knew they could depend on mom and dad whether to provide fish and meat to neighbors or pulling folks out of the snowbank on Thrill Hill. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for a friend, a neighbor or someone in need.
Marie was a Drill Sergeant both in and out of the Army, an avid reader, enjoyed the History Channel, but especially loved doting on her nieces, nephews and seven grandchildren, always creating care packages and gifts that involved crafting and art that would engage yet challenge them. She loved to sew and taught her grandchildren embroidery. She and visiting family would take them on adventures throughout the state because she wanted them to enjoy Alaska to its fullest. Marie was passionate about genealogy and would travel almost every year to Texas to spend time with her beloved aunts, uncles and cousins, taking along her grandchildren whenever she could.
Steve’s fondness for watching Spaghetti Westerns, baseball, reading and Tinker Bell was only surpassed by his love of moose meat, king salmon and spam in the can. His favorite pastimes were taking pretty girls and friends fishing and dancing the night away around the kitchen table to old-time music with his wife Marie and family.
Marie was very involved in her community and church, volunteering to sew for the Nutcracker, weddings, family and friends. Teaching CCD classes to the youths at St John’s and RCIA classes to those who wanted to join the Catholic Church and adult religious education. She was involved with the Women’s Guild, Stations of the Cross, and considered the backbone of Pic N’ Pay. She was always available for the church day or night. Marie was the light and the voice of most meetings and ready to host parties like Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Seder meals. If she saw a need, she would make it happen! Marie was known to take in anyone who needed help or a place to stay as long as they were willing to work and respect her rules! Many of her young friends that she would invite to Holy Thursday still call it “Wash your feet day!” Her energy, spirit and passion have brought so many closer to the Lord.
If you had a chance to catch Steve filleting a fish, being out on the bay or at Hotdog Sunday, you may have heard an ol’ story or two. Steve would tell you that fishing is a disease – if you get the disease, you just can’t stop. He would also tell you that we must be stewards of our fishery and take care of it so that our great-grandchildren and future generations may enjoy it! If you got close enough, he would say, “Yes, I smell like money!” (meaning he stunk like fish).
Marie’s passion was her family and faith! She raised her children to be enthusiastic readers, to question everything and sprinkled in just the right amount of Catholic guilt! She would often scold them to be good, because “wherever you go, whatever you do, somebody knows somebody who knows you! So be good, mind your manners and make good choices!” In some cases, we learned the hard way and sometimes even our friends went to confession!
Steve continued to pass on his maritime experience, local knowledge, fishing ethics and know-how to the younger generations coming up the line until just before his death and was like a “Father” to many in the fishing and maritime community. He was a man of principle and stuck up for the “underdog” or anyone who needed it. They call him the “Legend.” However, you would have found Steve to be a simple, humble man who loved his wife and his family beyond measure, believed in helping his neighbor or anyone in need and was kind to everyone (except when he was waving his arms and yelling).
Marie was feisty and lived life on her terms! She loved working with her family at the Driftwood Inn and visiting and sharing with folks from all over the world. They would arrive a visitor and leave feeling like family. She could get to know someone in a short period of time because she asked a lot of questions and just had a way of connecting! She wasn’t afraid to share her opinion with friends, young and old, on just how she saw things, whether it was “shacking up,” “the birds and bees,” religion, politics or just everyday things, she loved to teach (with references) and have a good debate. Later in life she would say, “I’m older and bolder, and not afraid to speak my mind” (not that she ever was!). She even ensured that Steve received the three Sacraments of Last Rights: confession, the anointing of the sick and Final Holy Communion before he passed through those pearly gates!
Steve often joked that he was known as “Ma Walli’s grandson for the first 1/3 of his life, then Marie Walli’s husband for the next, followed by Erica Walli’s dad” and that “NO, he did not have an identity crisis!”
Steve was survived by his wife of 52 years and just 18 days later Steve and Marie were survived by their children Adrienne (Alex) Sweeney, Ero Walli, (predeceased by their son Eric Stephenson Walli) survived by Erica Walli, of Homer, Alaska, and Earling Walli of Juneau, Alaska; their grandchildren, Grace Walli of Juneau, Aspen Walli, Eero Walli and Saylor Walli, of Homer Alaska, Eleanor, Lillian and Alexandria Sweeney of Homer, Alaska, and Steve’s brothers and sisters Kathy (John) Haley of Sterling, Alaska, David (Joan) Gibson of Shoreline, Washington, Robert John (Barbara) Gibson of Homer, Alaska, Robyn White, Carolyn (Marvin) Platt of Escatada, Oregon Cindy (Pete) Johnson of Anchorage, Alaska, Corky (Harland) Pope of Lebanon, Oregon, Weslei (Steve) Horn of Anchorage, Alaska, and Lance Kepley Welsh of Anchorage Alaska, Cheryl (Lonnie) Ford, of Kenai, Alaska and Patrick (PW) Miller of Anchorage, Alaska. Steve was predeceased by his parents Eugenia (Anne) Welsh, Robert (Bob) John Walli.
Marie is survived by her brother, Noe Gonzalez of Anchorage, Alaska and her nephews, Calex (Kati) Gonzalez of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Raul Gonzalez of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and John Eric (Jennifer) Gonzalez and their children Lilly, Ethan, Maya and Faith of Anchorage, Alaska. Marie was predeceased by her parents Calixto and Eudelia Gonzalez and her brother Jesus Gonzalez.
They are also both survived by many nieces, nephews, and cousins and all those who adopted Marie and Steve as “Mom and Dad,” you know who you are, and let’s not forget the puppies and the kitties! They leave behind many extended family and friends who will miss them both dearly.
So don’t be surprised when you look over the harbor or out onto the bay and you feel Steve’s presence because he will be there with you, expecting a check-in and a fishing report, your guardian angel, lighting the way and reminding you to think of the happiest of times…the best of times…or he may just be cursing the weather for you…so pay attention, listen up and “reflect” on your blessings!
Marie recently went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was proud to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River. In March of 2022, she planned to walk the El Camino, starting in Palermo, Spain, a 500-mile Pilgrimage, where she was advised by her children NOT to run with the bulls! She would tell you to live your dreams, hug your family and friends and don’t wait to do the things you love or get together with family! She would often say, “if you wait on God and the weather, you would never go anywhere at all!” So go and do it, don’t wait!
Steve and Marie created an incredible life together over the past 52-plus years. While writing this, we kids laughed and cried together remembering the incredible life Steve and Marie created over the past 52 year together. Everything they did was genuinely straight from their hearts in service of family, friends, God and country. We are each touched by their example and are grateful to be blessed by such wonderful, loving parents. We would like to invite each of you to keep our mom and dad alive in your hearts with warm, fun, happy memories and honor them by living your BEST LIFE.
Earling, Erica, Ero and Adrienne
A Catholic Mass, Graveside Service and Party to Celebrate Steve and Marie and rejoice their place in the Kingdom of God is planned for May of 2022 (TBD). With this celebration, we plan to emulate their zest for life and remember the positive example they set for all of us. We realize that this last month has been tough for many in our community, and our hearts are with all who are mourning a loved one. In lieu of flowers, please share your favorite memory or story of mom and/or dad to the family at The Walli/Sweeney Family, 135 W Bunnell Ave, Homer, AK 99603, or make a donation in Steve and Marie’s name to Hospice of Homer or the Anchor Point VFW.