View Full Version : Larry W. Wirkkala An artist with a wrench 63, of Ilwaco, 21 Sep 1947 ~ 18 Jul 2011

27-01-12, 02:39
Larry Wirkkala, an apostle for basketball and the wrench, was born a twin.

Identical to the eye of an unfamiliar observer, Larry appeared inseparable from his brother, Gary. Forever identified with the auto shop on the northwest corner at the single stoplight in Ilwaco, Wash., Larry held steady as a legendary craftsman in the milieu of esteemed auto mechanics.

Like the hero of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Larry never found an engine, transmission or carburetor that he didn't like.

Larry's beloved nephew, Gary Jr., tells a story of how a fisherman with a cedar-hulled troller approached the twins' father, Werner, over the issue of a malfunctioning diesel engine. The bite was on, and the fair vessel remained marooned at the fishing docks. That meant lost bucks.

"We'll fix'er up," stated the Finnish father optimistically, and immediately sent his 12-year-old sons to the rescue. Hours later, the fisherman rendezvoused at his boat, only to find two youths joyfully disassembling the diesel engine. The head block and a miasma of parts were strewn about. The young mechanics were oblivious to all but the problem at hand.

The fisherman rushed back to Werner, distraught, but the mechanic defended his boys with the pronouncement of "them or nothing." Hours later, the boat was up and running.

Larry and Gary cut their teeth in the hub of busy Ilwaco. Larry manhandled a wrench at age 4 and was considered a journeyman diesel mechanic only a few years after he learned to tie his shoelaces. The two brothers haunted their father's shop.

If Ilwaco was the epicenter of salmon fishing in the 1950s, basketball claimed a close second in the race for popularity in town. Ilwaco High School boasted fewer than 200. The numbers included the principal, staff and the beloved janitor, Ernie Oja, reputedly the best steelhead fisherman in the county. A teenager played either basketball or football (or both) or simply couldn't get a date.

Larry loved basketball. He played and coached the game, and in his 30s, he and his brother financed a traveling team - as their father had before them - that included the best of local ballplayers, including a number of Wirkkala cousins who handled the orange ball with skill and daring.

Larry coached young people and became known for his passion as well as frequent outbursts from the sidelines when a referee's call fell into his disfavor. Those words, "Get a life!" or "Are you blind?" echoed frequently across many a hardwood floor. "You got to be fair," tells brother Gary. "Larry always told it how it was."

"Unfortunately, people remember Larry for that," says Gary Jr. "They forget his generosity, his skill as a craftsman and a master fabricator, and his dedication to family and community.

"Larry and Dad often spent $20,000 to $30,000 a year, backing sports booster programs or supporting traveling teams known fondly as the ‘Wirkkala Mechanics.' Larry gave all his money away."

In between the auto shop and basketball, Larry sired five children (Mandy, Amy, Wendy, Larry Jr. and Brandy) with his locally grown wife, Lois (Worthington) Wirkkala. By then, girls played basketball, and, sure as sunrise, Larry was around to coach siblings, peers and his own children, all born with an athlete's quick first step.

"Diabetes brought Larry down," said Gary Jr., affectionately shaping his words with tears held in check.

The obituary:

LONGVIEW — Larry W. Wirkkala, 63, a lifelong resident of Ilwaco, died in Longview on July 18, 2011. The son of Warner and Grace (Tyacke) Wirkkala, he was born Sept. 21, 1947, in Astoria. He grew up in Ilwaco and was a graduate of Ilwaco High School.

At age 4 he began working with his father, learning the mechanic trade. By age 12 he was a journeyman mechanic, having built his first engine when he was a mere 8 years old and by 14, he built his first truck. He was a port engineer in Alaska for a number of years while employed by Bumble Bee Seafoods. Later he and his twin brother, Gary, operated a marine and automotive repair shop in downtown Ilwaco until illness forced his retirement. From the 1970s through the 1990s he also hauled boats. He helped his good friend, Bill Bredfield, build the original Chico’s Pizza Parlor in Seaview.

Mr. Wirkkala enjoyed working on vintage cars and was a charter and current member of the Beach Barons Car Club. He also enjoyed basketball and spending time with family and friends. From 1964 to 1965 he was a driver in drag racing. Always active in the community, he was instrumental in starting the Peninsula Youth Soccer Program, coached summer league basketball for more than 20 years and helped re-surface the basketball court at Hilltop School. He bought the original 30-second clocks installed at Ilwaco High School and throughout his life was an avid supporter of Ilwaco Fishermen athletic teams. Additionally, he started the adult volleyball program on the Peninsula, sponsored the Wirkkala Mechanics Town Team in the 1960s and built the Ilwaco Sports Boosters concession trailer.

He married Lois Worthington on March 24, 1972. She survives, residing in Ilwaco. Also surviving are children Amy, Wendy, Larry Jr., Mandy and Brandy; his twin brother, Gary, and brothers, Ken and Paul; his sisters, Andrea Marsh and Shelly Wirkkala; grandchildren, Marcos, Nisa, Kiya, Roger, Chad, Tyler, Baker, Natasha, and Ethan; 13 nieces and nephews; 24 great-nieces and nephews and one great-great-nephew.

The memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Peninsula Church Center with a reception immediately following. Memorials are suggested to the Larry W. Wirkkala Memorial Fund at Raymond Federal Bank to assist the family.