I will never forget his laugh.  Not only did he seem to laugh all of the time, but also when he did you could not help but to laugh too.  Sometimes he would laugh so hard he could barely breathe and his eyes would begin to tear up.  There were even times that I got scared because he would be laughing so hysterically that I was afraid he would run out of breath.  When he laughed it was as if time stood still, and for that moment you could not help but be filled with an unmeasurable amount of warmth and happiness seeing him still able to find humor in the silliest things - no matter how terrible his condition may have been.

Only a few short years before I sat in the bleachers with my mom as we watched my brother play basketball while my dad coached – it was one of the first games he coached at the high school.  As I watched my dad pace back and forth during the game, calling out plays, I noticed him limp as he walked.  I turned to my mom and asked her, “What is wrong with dad’s leg?  Why is he limping?”

She told me he had fallen on the same hip playing basketball at a friend’s house two Sundays in a row.  Although that usually would not be any cause for real concern I still felt as though something wasn’t right.  As time wore on, so did Dad’s limp.  I remember my mom and him going to many different doctors to figure out what was wrong.  Many tests and many months went by but no one had a clue. Then one day mom and dad came home knowing the answer - Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Who knew that what was first thought of as just a common injury could become something that would turn our lives completely around in just a couple of years.

But in spite of that terrible diagnosis he continued to laugh.  Knowing that he was still able to have such a sense of humor, and really enjoy all of the littlest things while he was sick shows what an amazing person he was and what an amazing spirit he always will be….

Dad, I miss you so much and think about you every day.

It is near midnight. My dad, in an Excursion filled with teenage boys, is frantically looking for a hotel. We had played two or three games that day in sweltering hot Palm Springs, but we had forgotten to find a place for us to stay overnight. People had flocked in from all over the country for an annual car show held in the area, making it a mission impossible.

We all knew from the start that my dad was not willing to drive back home, nearly three hours, so we were beginning to grasp the fact that we might have to sleep in the car. This was not an option for my dad. We must have stopped at every hotel along the 10 freeway, but that did not stop him. While driving near the renowned wind turbine generators I think the Big Man himself was giving us a sign that we should stop. In the rear view mirror we saw a four-door sedan get turned completely around, then smash into the center divider. While everyone was in awe of what they just saw, this did not stop my dad.

As the night became darker and the time passed by people began to fall asleep. I was not one of them. I was always my dad’s co-pilot up front, making it the best seat in the house. He was always one to give anyone and everyone the best that he could. Whenever the team would travel and have to spend the night away he would always accommodate those who were not a part of the family with the same lodging he received – always the best. This time was different however. As we continued to drive and continued not to find a hotel we found ourselves in Riverside. My dad was not too enthused, but we go off the freeway and found a run-down motel. This place looked like it was straight out of a movie, the ideal spot for anything your mind can think of, but we checked in anyway.

Now there were three different rooms we had that night and each one has a different story to tell. Whether it was the mysterious tapping that occurred in room 201, or the man from the news knocking on room 205, each one was an experience. In the morning you could tell how disappointed my dad was to have placed us in this situation, but he always found a way to make light of it. In the car, as we drove away, he turned to all of us and said, “Don’t tell your parents that we stayed at the Crack-House Inn!”

My dad is the greatest person I have ever known . He will always be my hero. I think about him every day and this story is one of the many that I know I can cherish forever.

I love you, Dad.

Seth

All of the Wallengren's were close in age. We were part of the baby boom generation and it showed! There was often a lot of turmoil in a home full of children suffering from undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder. Despite the chaos and the never ending noise, our parents provided us with all the most important gifts of childhood.  We grew up surrounded by a large extended family full of artists where we were encouraged to explore, read, garden, play, create and work. Whether it was making up games or building snow intricate snow forts, Ernie was always the leader. The difference between his success and mine was in the attention to detail!  His watercolors always included a price, 25c, 15c, 10c, 5c, clearly painted and circled in black on the front of the artwork, an approprate size.  No questions.  And he did cash in on this enterprise and many others.

I always wanted to be as smart as Ernie. I tried to keep up with him but couldn't.  He was the smartest person I've ever known.  He was better than any encyclopedia. I loved him most when he was comfortable with himself and when he was at home with his family. He and I corresponded every week for two years while he was a missionary in Central America for our church. I have every letter he sent me during that time and they are a treasures to me.  A few years after Ernie's death every letter I wrote to Ernie during that same time was returned to me.  He who was so distractable, so preoccupied, so intense, so messy had saved all those letters. They must have been his treasures too. They are over thirty years old now.

He loved his wife and children and did not want to be separtated from them. I know he believes that same sociality that existed among his family here will exist among them when they are reunited. So go for it Ernie. We're always going to be cheering for you.  We are all on your team.  You have fought the good fight and we are all better for knowing and loving you.


Kristin

Ernie was the oldest of four boys and one girl.  Here is what his youngest brother Rolf remembers:

A couple of nights after Ernie died we watched a marathon of family movies at his house: birthdays, holidays, pool parties, vacations.  Cheryl was usually pregnant and Ernie unseen except for his hand occasionally stuck into frame, trying to coax one of the children to perform for the camera.  We heard him, though, interviewing the children, laughing at their antics.  Ernie simply couldn’t get enough of them as the sheer volume of footage clearly shows.  I had no doubt he would be a devoted father when he told me shortly after the birth of Alexis, his firstborn:  “She will never date.”

My brother Ernie was an amazing man.  Funny, bright, accomplished, charitable, loyal.  He had a boyish charm and playfulness that drew us to him and even made his quirks endearing somehow.

For instance, Ernie was compulsive.  With the exception of his family and his deeply rooted beliefs, Ernie changed passions like many of us change socks.  He would find some new interest and read up on it, sometimes becoming an expert, other times learning just enough to be a danger to himself and others, and then get everybody he knew involved in the same activity before tiring of it and moving on to something else, leaving everyone in the lurch.  Intellivision baseball, computers, golf, hearts, Xywrite, the Raiders, bowling, Boggle, pinball, Mai Tais, the piano, The Simpsons, diving, day-trading and basketball, to name just a few.

Several years ago Ernie brought a new computer game and sat playing it for three solid days in his bedroom without every stopping to eat, sleep or shower.  That was the first time Cheryl ever swore at him.  My youngest brother Brandon recalled one visit when he was forced to watch Ernie play Super Mario Brothers until the early morning hours because Ernie wanted to prove he could get through the whole game.  Brandon never got to play and probably could have used a lesson from Cheryl in swearing at Ernie.

When Ernie was a child he was fascinated with the natural world.  We lived in a little brown house in Midway, Utah, up the road from The Homestead, a resort that our family owned and operated.  There were acres and acres of farmland and cow pastures to explore.  The Homestead was built near a geothermal mound called a hot pot and the rocks from it and other craters were used to build many houses in the valley.  Ernie loved catching the lizards that crawled around the hot pot and figured out that he could study them more closely if he brought them home to live on our pot rock fireplace.

This scientific curiosity also manifest itself when Ernie first became sick.  He would test his hyper-reflexes and watch his muscles spasm as his body was beginning to break down, almost as if he were observing someone else.  Although it had to have been terrifying for him, he was also fascinated with the process.

Ernie yelled.  I don’t think it was the act of yelling itself that he enjoyed nearly so much as it was the results the yelling produced.  He yelled mostly at his kids and at his basketball teams, often using very colorful language, and look how all of them turned out.  Perhaps the world could use more of Ernie’s yelling.  One evening Ernie called to tell me about a technical foul he got for swearing during a church basketball game.  After he was given the first technical Ernie turned to the ref and said, “If you liked that word then you’re gonna LOVE this one,” and used another phrase that got him tossed out.  Not just from the game.  From the building.

Older and wiser than his siblings, Ernie found that the role of instigator was the way to go.  Encourage, sit back, reap the rewards and never take the blame.  On a family trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, for our grandfather’s ninetieth birthday Ernie, of course, videotaped everything.  Never satisfied with bland family documentation, Ernie was looking to make an action film.  He coaxed brother Eric to speed around the ice-skating rink, weaving dangerously around dozens of small children (most of them our own kin), and from ground level taped Eric spraying ice into the camera.  Eric promptly got the boot by the rink police while Ernie dried his camera lens and sought out the next shot.

Despite all of Ernie’s foibles, we knew we could count on him when push came to shove.  A number of years ago when I was passing a kidney stone I called Ernie and pleaded for a ride to the hospital.  He came in an instant.  It was my third visit to the emergency room that weekend and as we sped along the freeway the pain was unbelievable, coming in waves and doubling me over.  Having seen great displays of pain from Cheryl on the occasion of his children’s births, he used his experience from LaMaze classes and got me breathing in that heavy rhythm.  I have to say that it did little to ease the pain, but I was so touched by Ernie’s concern for me that when I finally passed the stone I gave it to him.

When Mark first got his start at KOST radio, he used to sweat out his job security every thirteen weeks when ratings came out.  In passing, his boss, Johnny Kaye, mentioned that perhaps Mark’s contract could be renegotiated if Johnny were to get a part on “Falcon Crest”, the show that Ernie was then producing.  In passing, Mark mentioned this conversation to Ernie.  Shortly thereafter, Johnny landed the role of a security guard and Mark’s contract was renewed – all in passing.

While we all have wide and varied experiences with Ernie, it would probably be safe to say that we all share the same amazement at how Ernie coped with his disease and continued to draw the most from his life and enjoy those around him.  Often when he sat coughing or choking, I would look at him, wanting to help somehow, and he would see my concern and smile, letting me know things were all right.  It seems he always ended up comforting me instead.

It now falls to us to remember the lessons Ernie leaves us: lessons of laughter and hard work, of living life to the fullest, of confronting obstacles, not avoiding them, of giving ourselves completely, of always putting forth our best effort.  I know it was through his faith in Our Savior that Ernie was able to endure his own suffering.  Ernie continued to believe in miracles and I believe we witnessed several.  Like the Friday evening that the entire Calabasas varsity basketball team stood hand-in-hand in Ernie’s kitchen, praying with a minister for Ernie’s health, all of them invoking the name of Jesus even though many of the boys were Jewish.  They did this out of love and that’s no small miracle.  And like the way the entire community rallied around him, approaching him with a hug and a kiss even though he was too sick to return the same.

I am eternally grateful that I can call Ernie my brother.  I love him dearly and I know that wherever he is he feels my love and returns it.

Okay, Ernie, it’s taken me ten years to get here, and even now it isn’t easy to think or write about you without tears, but as we approach the tenth anniversary of your death I think it’s time to add my own memories of you.

You were born on a snowy day in the Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah and in the knitted cap they pulled down over your ears you looked like a little Nordic fisherman.  You were a good baby, an easy baby but eager to get on with life, as though you knew it would be too short.

By the time you were two-and-a-half you knew every letter of the alphabet in both upper and lower case.  You were reading at a seventh grade level by the time you were six.  Once, to my surprise, you sat through the entire Dinah Shore show only to turn to me afterwards and announce resentfully:  “I watched the whole show and I didn’t see a single dinosaur!”

You were a compulsive writer.  I always knew what was on your mind because of notes I found around the house.  One of the early ones read:  “Drink H2O as needed.”

You were a National Merit Scholarship finalist and were accepted into the University of Utah right from your junior year in high school.  They didn’t want anybody else to have you!

You went through the seventies, sullen and long-haired, in a haze of pot.  I knew you’d come through it because you had grown up a “phase” child, thoroughly exhausting everything that sparked your interest before moving on to something new.  And in time…..

…..you found your spiritual side and served a two year Mormon mission in Central America where they called you “Chon-Boy” Walton because of the earth shoes you were wearing.  Your converts felt sorry for you and bought you a shiny new pair of shoes from Sears.

You came home and earned a Magna Cum Laude degree.  You had a strong work ethic and worked at everything from typing to teaching piano until your breakthrough in Hollywood.  You received a Writers Guild nomination for the first script you ever sold.  You were elected to their board of directors.

You married beautiful Cheryl and didn’t waste any time building a family: five kids, several cats, a dog and a parrot named Tasha who learned how to imitate your car alarm.

You wrote and produced several tv series, traveled, bought bigger and bigger houses with bigger and bigger pools and always drove the best cars.  You were an early believer in computers.  You wrote the first screenwriting program used in Hollywood and were the first to computerize a show.  You invested in Microsoft before most people knew what it was.

On the side you were a basketball fan with season tickets to the Laker games.  As your sons grew and became interested in the sport your life revolved more and more around basketball and your television career began to take a back seat. 

 In coaching you earned the love and admiration of your teams and the entire community.   And then –- a fall, a limp that wouldn’t go away and a deadly diagnosis.   You went online, googled your symptoms and knew before doctors told you that you were going to die of ALS.  The day of the official diagnosis you announced that you were taking the family to Disney World.  And you did.

 You kept on coaching as long as you could, graduated from a cane to a wheelchair, all the while going to games and church and movies and doing more laughing than complaining.  ALS closed in around you, taking movement and speech but never humor and love and optimism. 

You died the day before my seventy-fifth birthday, and I experienced it as a gift, freeing you from what you once described as being “buried in sand up to my neck.”

You were not perfect.  You could be a terrible slob.  You were maddeningly obsessive, absent-minded, and sometimes brutally frank.  You could blow your top.  But somehow, while living an ordinary life – well, maybe not so ordinary – you inspired family and friends and a whole community.

You were always just my kid, often annoying, so you’ll have to forgive me if it came as a surprise that your life made such a difference to so many people and that now, ten years later, your memory continues to inspire.

We’re going to beat ALS, Ernie, I promise you.  We’re a part of this production.   And we’re all on your team.

With love and laughter,

Mom 

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