An interactive life history (Lifey) of Robert Walz.
Below is a transcription (more or less) of Robert’s life story.
Christmas Tree Survival Story & Grandpa Walz
I was born in a small town in South Eastern Idaho- Rexburg, Idaho. My family were farmers on both sides going back for many generations. And one of my earliest memories- I must’ve been 2 or 3 years old- involved a Christmas Tradition and my grandfather.
At our house having a live Christmas tree was a big family tradition. So my father would get a live Christmas tree and he loved to decorate it. I loved the smell of pine and it reminds me of Christmas and I think that’s because of our roots, because every Christmas we would go and cut our own Christmas tree, because we lived in South Eastern Idaho and were not too far away from the Yellowstone area and so we’d drive up towards Island Park every year and we’d go and cut our own Christmas tree, so I remember when I was very young that my mom and my dad and my grandfather and I set off on a trip. He drove a Jeep it was always his car of choice and so we were driving up to the Island Park area and we parked and we started looking around for a Christmas tree. And so while we’re out looking for the tree, this big blizzard came in, and anyone who’s lived in Southeastern Idaho- you know how when the wind starts to blow and the snow starts coming down that you can’t see anything. And so we cut the tree and as we were bringing it back- this blizzard came in and we actually had a little difficult time finding the car- my grandfather’s Jeep- so as we’re walking along and dragging this tree, we found the car and we all got inside, because it was very cold outside. And I remember sitting on my Mom’s lap in the back seat of this car and you couldn’t see anything outside of the windows.
So as a little kid, you don’t really know too much- you know that you’re cold and that you’re uncomfortable, but I could see the fear in my parents’ faces as we sat inside that car. I didn’t realize at the time, but now their concern was that they were going to freeze to death, because we were out in the middle of nowhere in the wild of the Island Park area, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. So they went to start the car and the battery was dead. Apparently one of the doors got left open and the light caused the battery to die, so we were stuck there inside the car. So we’re sitting in the car and it was getting colder and colder- we couldn’t turn it on and it became a life-threatening situation. So, I remember my grandfather and my dad talking, and I remember seeing my grandfather put on his coat and his hat, and get out the car and start walking. And I remember seeing as he got towards the front of the car, that he just disappeared into this whiteout, and he was gone.
And I remember my Dad saying to my Mom “It’s the only chance we’ve got.”
And so, you know as I thought back on that story, they were in a perilous life-threatening situation here with a young three year old kid sitting on their lap, and the only hope that they had was to go to the highway and try to track somebody down and bring them in. And so my Grandfather chose to do that, and so I’ve often wondered what he was thinking as he started walking towards the highway, because you couldn’t see anything in any direction and it was really cold, and the wind was blowing really hard, and being able to find the road must’ve been a difficult task- it was probably a mile from the road. And so as he started walking I wondered what would’ve gone through his mind thinking if I don’t come here, my son and my daughter-in-law and my grandchild are probably not going to survive– they’re probably going to freeze to death. And so that had to be kind of an intense thing for him to do.
So we sat in the car for what seemed to be a very, very long time- a very worrisome time- when pretty soon suddenly this other car pulled up- it was kind of a flat bed truck and some guys jumped out and they were able to jumpstart our truck and we were on our way again. You know, and everything was fine now and all the sudden we were driving down the road singing Christmas songs and came home and set up our Christmas tree, and what could have been a potential disaster turned out to be a great event, because my grandfather somehow found his way to that road, and was able to pull someone in who was able to help him to come back and save us.
And so you know, I’ve thought about that story many times. In our lives there are some things that we’re just unable to do ourselves. There was nothing I could do, there was nothing my mom and dad could do. But because my grandfather was willing to sacrifice in order to risk his life to go and try to find help, we were able to be saved. So I’ve always thought of that at Christmas time, because there’s a real connection there with when we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ– because the message is really quite the same. And that is- we were lost, and we had no way of returning.
And so I’ve often wondered what Christ must’ve thought as he walked towards Gethsemane and as He walked towards/was taken to where He was crucified. I’m sure He had a lot of thoughts that went through His mind of how am I going to do this, and probably had a lot of fear because there was so much depending on it. All of us were depending on the decisions that He made at that time. And thankfully for all of us, He was willing to endure that, go through that to sacrifice His life so that all of us could live again. So every Christmas when I see the Christmas tree and smell the pine, it brings back really good memories of the importance of the statement “it’s the only chance we’ve got”, because I truly believe that Jesus Christ is the only chance that we’ve got. And I’m so thankful for my grandfather and for the Savior, that they were willing to sacrifice for me.
Moving From Idaho To California & Developing Asthma
When I was about four years old, my father was an accountant in Rexburg, Idaho and he owned a hotel called the Ilamonte Hotel. Things didn’t go very well in his business and so he decided to take his family and move, which I believe was the single greatest thing that he ever did for me in my life, because we moved from freezing cold Rexburg, Idaho, to nice, sunny Los Angeles, California. So when I was four years old we packed up all of our stuff and we headed to Los Angeles- we probably looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. My Dad and my Mom and my two sisters and I drove through the desert which was really hot.
I think that it was a combination of the heat and my age, but somehow on that trip I developed a lung problem which then developed into bronchial pneumonia and so when we arrived in California, the first day that we were there, I could not breathe, so they had to rush me to the hospital and I spent the first two weeks in California in an oxygen tent with bronchial pneumonia, and so that kind of damaged my lungs and after that I suffered with asthma for many years. I think it was better in California because of the dry climate, but I suffered from that asthma for a long period of time. So that was probably hard on my dad, because when we moved there he didn’t have a job and he didn’t have health insurance for anything like that back at that time- this was in the early 60s.
So, we were kind of an interesting family in that we were really fresh off the farm. You know Rexburg, Idaho is a very small place to be from, and so I don’t think that I in my life had ever seen a black person, until we moved to Los Angeles. And I think it was the same way with my older sisters, and so we went to school there and we were a little bit odd. And so we had to kinda make a transition from being Idaho farm people to living in the second largest city in the United States, which was very diverse. So I think because of that, at first we were a little bit depressed and a little bit afraid, because we thought we were kind of weird, so we just kind of stay in the house all the time, we didn’t really venture out to make friends the way that we should have.
Eventually we did this over time, and it took my sisters a little bit of time to get out and make friends, but eventually we ingrained in this society, and I think this was a big benefit to me in my life, because one of the things they taught us in the LA City school system was the importance of embracing diversity and the importance of being color blind when it came to race and ethnicity and to religion, and so I really grew up not really seeing people as black or white, or Chinese or Muslim or Catholic or Baptist, but just seeing them as good or bad. You meet good people, and you meet bad people throughout your life. So, I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to grow up in Los Angeles, even though it started on kind of a bad note with developing bronchial pneumonia and asthma and I found that if I stayed in good shape, that I was able to overcome that.
So I started kind of a routine when I was in high school, of exercising every day. Some days it would be really bad and I wouldn’t be able to breathe and they came out with new medications and things that made it better for me to breathe, but I always found that if I stayed in somewhat good shape and did exercising every day that it would help reduce my asthma syndrome, so I’m so thankful for my Dad and for my mom, that they moved us off the farm- no insult to the ancestors- but they moved us to a large metropolitan city which was great to grow up in.
Back in the 60s and 70s Los Angeles and Canoga Park, the town we lived in was an amazing place to live. And I had really good friends there from all different backgrounds, so a lot of my friends were Catholic, a lot of my friends were Jewish and we got along really well and so I remember in Canoga Park we would get up on Sunday to go to our church, which was the Mormon church and we’d got outside and everybody would be dressed up and headed to church- whether they we Lutheran, or baptist or Jewish- everybody went to church and so it was really a great community to live in because we all had this thing in common, and that was that we believed in God and that kind of drew us together as a community and so it was a lot of closeness in the neighborhood that we lived in, and so I loved my early years growing up in Los Angeles, especially the times that I could breathe.
Brother West’s Home Teaching & Becoming Active Mormons Again
For whatever reason when my family moved from Rexburg, Idaho to Los Angeles, in the transition my parents somehow got a little bit lost from church attendance. We were devout members of the LDS church, our ancestors were Mormon pioneers, our ancestors had settled in the Rexburg area. So we were very involved in the LDS church, but somehow when we came to Los Angeles I think we might’ve gotten a little bit lost and so I remember when I was young that we didn’t really always go to church on Sunday.
Back then you had priesthood meeting in the early morning and then you came back for Sunday school and then you went home and then you came back for sacrament meeting at night. So I remember a lot of times we didn’t go to church at all and I remember many times we would go in the morning, but we would not go back in the afternoon. So when I was young I didn’t think much of that in fact I thought that was great, because we could go play with my friends on Sunday and when you’re a kid, that’s kind of what you want to do, so my older sisters, especially my older sister Susan- she wanted to be active in the Young women’s program and so she was very active in the church program. So I remember we had a home teacher I didn’t know- he was a home teacher at the time and I think his name was Brother West, and he would come to her house, and I remember he had kind of reddish hair and he would come to our house every month.
So he was a home teacher- I didn’t really know what home teaching was, but he would come to our house and he would talk with us and we would be in the living room and visit, and I always felt really good when Brother West came and brought these young men who were you know probably 10 years older than I was- I had to be six or seven at the time- and I thought they were really cool. You know they would come and sit in our house, and so I loved it when the home teachers came. I didn’t really know why. I didn’t know why they were there but I knew that I loved it when they came. So he was very devoted in coming visiting us every month and my dad was not really active in the church and hadn’t been to the temple for many years. My mom believed in the church, but she for some reason had gone into inactivity over time. They would come and they would present these lessons and I noticed that my dad started going to church more. At first I didn’t like this to tell you the truth. Over time I noticed that pretty soon we’re at the church all the time- pretty soon my sisters got involved in the women’s program. I remember the first day I went to the primary I thought it was kind of a goofy thing they wanted me to wear this green thing and I thought was kind of nuts, and I remember a lady telling me that I had to hold still- so I kind of decided I didn’t ever want to go to primary anymore, so I told my mom I’m not coming back here, and she said no we’re going to go to church from now on, we’re going to be active in the church.
So I saw my dad go from being inactive in the church- I remember them drinking coffee at night, and then going to church every Sunday. And then my father got called to be a stake missionary and then being called to be a counselor in the stake presidency. Both my sisters were married to returned missionaries in the temple and I was married in the temple, as well as my younger brother. So we went from being lost to being very active in our religion, in particular in the Mormon religion. And I saw a big change that happened in my father. At that time I didn’t really know his background that much. At that time I noticed he became much more kind- became much more spiritual in the things that he did and said- so I really credit this to the home teacher Brother West- if he’s out there ‘I love you man’- because you sacrificed your time to come to the home of a guy who was not coming to church and just stayed with us. I’m sure there were times that he thought ‘why am I wasting my time?’ because they’re not active in the church, but eventually over time he had a big influence on our life and in our family. And so I appreciate that there was somebody looking out for us- looking out for this little lost family from Rexburg, Idaho and was willing to help us to get back on track for what we wanted in our lives.