An extraordinary man who lived an amazing life, Walter passed away peacefully at age 99 on Friday, December 5 at 5:15 pm, with his daughters by his side.
Walter was the son of Walter Nathaniel Fanning and Anna Dagmar Kofod Fanning. He was big brother to the late Erma "Froste" Bradbrook and the late Velma Harreschou. He was born in the lighthouse keeper's quarters on Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco Bay, on August 14, 1909 when his father was in Navy in France and his mother was staying with her parents, Lighthouse Keeper John Peter Kofod and his wife Meta Jorgensen Kofod, Danish immigrants who came to San Francisco in the mid-1800's. Danish influence was apparent at Christmas time when he cooked "aebleskivers" for the family every year.
He graduated from Vallejo High School in 1927 and from UC Berkeley in 1936 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. While on a Naval ROTC cruise from Berkeley in 1934 he met Jane Dempsey at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu where the local girls greeted the incoming ships at well-chaperoned dances. They married in 1938 and built a home in the Crocker Highlands district of Oakland. They were married 32 years until Jane's passing in 1970. Walter has lived on Trestle Glen Road for 68 years.
Commissioned an Ensign in the US Naval Reserve in 1936, Walter served on active duty during World War II. He was appointed Commander in the Naval Reserve in 1950 by then Commander C.W. Nimitz, Jr. Walter received his honorable discharge in 1951.
As an independent contractor he had an office and built 5 homes in the Montclair area of Oakland before he founded his business, the Oakland Machine Works in 1953. His "shop" was known for quality and precision machining of rocket and ship parts. He retired in 1975 in order to spend more time in his beautiful garden and with his grandchildren.
His other major interest was woodworking. He made hope chests for family and friends and taught many friends how to make things out of wood. He loved the different kinds of wood and imparted this appreciation to his children and friends. Black walnut was his favorite. In the last few years and up until June of this year, at age 98, he made over 1,500 beautiful wooden pens on his lathe, sending them to the Freedom Pen Project for the troops overseas, not to mention many more for friends, family and visitors.
As a child he had spent many happy hours visiting his grandparents, the lighthouse keepers, at East Brother Island in San Pablo Bay. He spent the summer of 1918 at East Brother to avoid the flu epidemic. In 1979, when he heard about a restoration project at East Brother Light Station, Walter became a volunteer, restoring the old fog horn and the intricate railings and "gingerbread" along the tower and the staircases. He served as Vice President of the Board of Directors for many years, involving the whole family in various projects. He appeared in the PBS "Legendary Lighthouses" segment about Yerba Buena Island, where he was born.
When the United States Lighthouse Society was formed Walter became its first Vice President and helped restore the Lightship "Relief," now anchored at Jack London Square, Oakland. From start to finish and stem to stern Walter's expertise in ship repair was an invaluable asset.
Walter will be remembered for his incredible gentleness, kindness, generosity, intelligence, simplicity and humility. As great as his many talents were, even greater was his willingness to share his knowledge. Throughout his whole life he was always there for anyone who asked. He was one of a kind, and he knew how to fix anything!
His faith was simple. He used to say that if he could plant a bulb in the fall and know it would bloom in the spring, he had something to look forward to.
Surviving Walter are his daughter Susan J. Montague, his son-in-law William "Monty" Montague, and his daughter Nancy D. Fanning. He was lovingly called "Pops" by Susan's children Christopher Montague and his wife Danielle, and Jennifer Montague Clark and her husband Stephen; and Nancy's children Shaun and Laura Osburn. He was a very proud great-grandfather to Will and Spencer Clark and Dylan Montague, all of Oakland. Walter is also survived by several nieces and nephews.
Family and friends are invited to join in a celebration of Walter's life on Saturday, January 24 at 2:00 pm at Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity, 144 Athol Avenue, Oakland, CA 94606. For more information please go to www.walterfanning.com.
In lieu of flowers contributions are suggested to the Walter Fanning Memorial Fund, East Brother Light Station Restoration, c/o Tom Butt, East Brother Light Station Inc, 117 Park Place, Point Richmond, CA 94801.