The hardest pill: While helping others, Keizerite mourns loss of memories consumed in canyon fires

Keizerite Dave Walery delivers pizza to volunteers in clean-up effort after the Santiam Canyon fires (Submitted).

Dave Walery is well known around Keizer for being a selfless individual.

The former Keizer First Citizen is known as “Mr. Christmas” around town for his involvement in nearly every holiday-related event in Keizer. Walery has also been one of the lead organizers of KeizerFEST in years past and was named the Merchant of the Year at the Keizer First Citizen banquet in January — Walery is the owner of Walery’s Premium Pizza in West Salem.

Even in the face of trials, Walery made the needs of others his main concern.

The Beachie Creek wildfires in September caused widespread destruction in the communities of Elkhorn, Gates, Mill City and Detroit. After learning that his Detroit cabin was a casualty of the fires, Walery still wanted to provide assistance for people helping with the clean-up process.

Over a two day-period (Sept. 20-21) Walery fed hundreds of volunteers, as well as members of the military and Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

“I just told the kids to make a bunch of pizzas and then took them to my car. I was feeding everyone,” Walery said.

While Walery, who graduated from McNary in the 1970s, has lived in the Keizer for the majority of his life, the town of Detroit has held a special place in his heart since birth.

Walery’s father built the family cabin by hand in 1952. It was the place where Walery spent his weekends as a youngster, creating a copious amount of childhood memories with his brother, Steve.

“We were one of the first ones on the mountain. It was a totally different atmosphere back then. We lived the simple life. We occupied our time exploring in the woods, building forts and going fishing,” Walery said. “I also knew that when I heard my mom ringing the bell, it was time to get my ass back to the house.”

Since running a pizza parlor takes up most of his time on weekdays, Walery’s cabin served as a haven for him during the weekend where he could escape from the chaos of everyday life to find peace and quiet.

But the Detroit cabin was more than a getaway home to Walery, it served as a tribute to his late parents for all the hard work they had put in to make the house a special place.

A photo of Walery’s father beaming with pride after catching a fish hung over the fireplace. In the entry way was a guest book that Walery’s mother created in the 1950s, featuring memoirs from all the guests that have stayed in the house for the past 70 years. In the living room stood an old, but still working, radio that was used as the primary source of in-home entertainment from Walery’s youth.

Nearly seven decades of memories and mementos were gone in the course of an evening.

“There was just a lot of stuff that you can’t replace. I’m not a materialistic person, it was more about the memorabilia that was lost. That was the hardest pill to swallow.” Walery said.

Walery has always considered Detroit his second home, which is why when he was asked to help with a boat removal project at the lake, he jumped at the chance.

While wildfires were still ravaging through the Santiam Canyon, Walery joined a task force — put together by Garrett Olson, a Marine Patrol Deputy with the Marion County Sheriff’s office — that had the goal of removing 250 boats from Detroit Lake after multiple marinas were destroyed.

“I was just there to help and do what was needed,” Walery said.

What was needed from Walery was simple. With hundreds of people working throughout the two days, they would have to eat at some point, which is why Walery brought up as many pizzas as he could to feed the hungry volunteers.

Walery’s service was appreciated by those involved with the project, especially considering the lost he experienced due to the fires.

“I don’t need any notoriety, that is just what I do. You give back a little you get back a lot. That’s what my philosophy is,” Walery said.

Walery knew that his Detroit cabin had been destroyed after seeing photographs. But after bringing pizzas on the second day of the project, Walery was escorted up to the site of the cabin by the Marion County Forest Service to get visual confirmation of the damage and to see if he could salvage any personal items.

“That was when the reality of the situation set in for me. I cried a little bit, then later, I cried a little more,” Walery said.

Despite losing nearly everything in the house, Walery was able to recover some of his dad’s old tools that were used to build the cabin.

In the future, Walery plans to rebuild the cabin. He also is planning on helping with the rebuilding process in the town of Detroit.

“I still have a roof over my head, which I’m very thankful for. So many people lost every single thing. Those are the people I feel bad for. So I want to do what I can to help those people,” Walery said.