Don Wallis, Jr., Vevay Newspapers publisher, passes away in Ohio

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Donald R. Wallis, Jr., former editor and current publisher of Vevay Newspapers, Inc., passed away on Monday at his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Don leaves a loving family, including his mother, Mary Goode Wallis, a sister, Jane W. Jacobs; and three daughters: Laura, Sarah, and Jessica; and he also leaves many friends here in the Switzerland County community. He held a deep love for the Ohio River, and spent countless hours learning about it and the people who live near it by spending time on his boat.

In his passing, Vevay Newspapers asked two of his closest friends, Teresa Bovard Lyons and Dr. Chris Sieglitz, to share their memories of their friend.

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Teresa Lyons wrote:

Nestled over the bank of the old Benedict Coal Yard on the west end of Market Street in Vevay sits a timber frame house which was Don’s last home in Switzerland County. He loved the Ohio River and his dream of building a timber frame home came true when Red (H.C.) Benedict sold him the unique Ohio Riverfront setting. Don paid Red a fair price for the property, but Red could drive a hard bargain. He liked the idea that Don was going to move back to the county and build a home on the former coal yard.

A timber frame is unique to this area, but that was what Don knew he wanted. With the help of Herschel Brichto and his crew, a crane and a lot of imagination, the timber frame home was built. Thus began Don’s second and final journey in Switzerland County.

It must have been close to 40 or so years ago when Don, his wife and daughters lived on Indian Creek in an unassuming farmhouse on Parks Ridge facing Bennington Pike. Don was editor of the Vevay Newspapers at the time and their young family was a “fit” in Switzerland County. His beautiful wispy haired daughters were the love of his life.

Don did for Switzerland County what other media now tries to replicate by putting a personal touch on their stories. There is a difference though; Don brought out the good things about the people of Switzerland County. Don met with, interviewed and actually listened to the people he wrote about. In his true form, he drew people into their own stories. Before they knew it, he had written things people may not have even known about themselves.

Don quickly made close friends who would be friends for life, Kenny Harrell and Chris Sieglitz being two of the closest. The threesome spent many great times together and at least one would be with Don on the Wednesday night paper deliveries throughout the county.

Growing up in Bennington where there were two small grocery stores, a huxter and a water truck, another privilege was getting the Vevay Newspaper delivered to our house by Don and whomever happened to be with him in the old single cab pick-up. The delivery time was never the same. They probably had been held up by other correspondents for the paper when he would drop theirs off. My Mom, Betty Bovard Griswold, a long time correspondent and Don became very close friends. They had each other’s back even at times when they were both wrong, but would often joke about it.

Things would change for Don and his family and he needed to move on which meant leaving Switzerland County. His daughters grew up, they were heading into their own personal lives which Don whole heartedly supported.

Don believed in freedom, he believed in education, although he wasn’t hardened into the traditional education. He also believed in the right to live your life in the way you wanted to. These ideas and ideals were what made him unique. Don lived a bit over 69 years and I would bet that most of his days were doing exactly what he wanted to do.

Don did eventually return to Switzerland County after his daughters were grown and it was in the early 1990’s. He was having his timber frame home built; he was spending a lot of time writing and editing and had resumed old friendships and created new ones.

Chris Sieglitz was still here and not only still had boats but also a spot off the Ohio River at Bryant’s Creek between Florence and Patriot. Kenny Harrell had a place at Hanover Beach. Don, Chris and I started boating together and we boated the Ohio River and the creeks feeding it in everything from a canoe, a john boat, a sailboat, a flat bottom to a houseboat. Don’s best times ever on the Ohio came from his simple flat bottomed mussel fishing boat.

The boat was all wood, had 2 long seats either side which could lift up for storage, outboard motor (nothing but a Honda something stroke). The boat was wide open all the way around and you were sitting just atop the water and feeling its ebb and flow while tooling up and down the river.

He loved the Ohio River, he loved nature, he loved wood. The timber frame house, (now owned by someone else), afforded Don everything he wanted at the time. He spent timeless comfortable hours on the phone talking gently to his daughters while the wood burning fireplace was going. The kitchen, while not overwhelmed with any storage by any imagination, would afford anyone that could simply cook with enough of the staples; the staircase with the driftwood hand-rail would serve the upper level and the out of doors led to the Ohio River. That’s what he wanted. The hand laid stone foundation that sat below the home was a haven for wildflowers and wildlife. Don appreciated nature and the joys it would bring you in return.

Don bought a few wooden boats, and he also had Bobby Adams custom build a custom wooden houseboat for him. Don gave me a wooden boat. It was a 1958 wooden Chris Craft with a cuddy cabin. I babied that boat and we always kept our boats docked at Turtle Creek Marina up in Florence. Bob and Aggie were always the best hosts. That’s where Don taught me to tie any kind of boat off to the cleats on the docks. After a while that boat was brought back to my house and a 10 inch overnight rain sank her. We did salvage her, but it was only months later I was on the Ohio River with my niece Carrie Lynn and her friend Michael Heitz from Madison and he said he always wanted a wooden boat. I said I may have a gift for you! I asked Don if he cared if I gave Michael the boat to restore and he didn’t mind. If you drive from Vevay to Madison and just about two miles outside Madison, look to the North, you will probably see the boat, christened the “Nick of Time” sitting in a covered garage.

Don had a love for the Ohio River, Harlan Hubbard’s life and works as well as that of Wendell Barry. His dedication to these unique individuals was reflective of the individual he was.

Don sent postcards from his journeys. He loved antique typewriters and continued to use them even when technology would have been quicker and easier. He gave wind chimes and polished stones as gifts and appreciated free spirited movements that ran country wide such as Outward Bound for teens. He encouraged my daughter Annie to be her own person regardless of peer pressure.

Don gave his family, friends and Switzerland County unique gifts; the kind of son, brother, father and friend that never changed. He drifted steadily through life in the same manner his flat bottom boat drifted on the Ohio River.

When I told my Dad that Don had passed, he said, “He was one Don Wallis”.

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Chris Sieglitz memories:

He was one of the most interesting people whom I’ve ever met. I thought he was super intelligent and very talented. I enjoyed his company, we had some good times together. He was a good writer and a good newspaper man. He and the paper had won Best Pacer for a small town several times.

I went with Don on interviews he did all around the county, and it was fun. We went everywhere. When the pilot landed his glider in a cornfield up at Brammers, we interviewed him. There was this old fisherman who lived on a shantyboat, and we spent quite a bit of time with him. He lived in this one room shantyboat. No motor, but he had three dogs. It was in the middle of winter and he had a big pot-bellied stove in there, and we interviewed him, and that was great.

We were interviewing this guy one time and while we were interviewing him, we saw a mouse crawl up and into the pocket of one of his shirts.

We had some good times.

He loved the river and he loved Switzerland County.

He had a 30-foot homemade houseboat, and it would only run about half the time, but we went up and down the river to Madison and up to Paint Lick. We’d usually go and spend the night and cook a big steak and all that stuff. We had some good times on the river.

He loved his boat and he loved his dog. He had a dog named “Kung” and he was a shepherd, and I think that dog knew more English than most people.

I first met Don when he started at the paper in 1972. Someone told me that I was going to have to meet this guy, so I did. There was this Wednesday night run where he took all the papers to all the various stores and businesses – that got to be a real thing and everybody wanted to go. There was always somebody new who formed part of the crew.

Don was just a lot of fun. He did love his family, his three daughters and his mom and his sister. He was very faithful to them.

I loved him, too. I thought he was just grand, and I’m going to miss him.

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For more about the life of Don Wallis, Jr. please see page 2 of today’s edition.