Bill Asplund made an indelible impact on students, the outdoors and our communities
The insightful columnist David Brooks recently observed that teaching is a human endeavor — that students learn from people they love. There is a clear connection between the emotional connection kids have with their teachers and their capacity to learn.
Those of us who had the privilege of knowing the late Bill Asplund can testify to the truth of Brooks’ observation.
Bill was a high school chemistry teacher, a climbing, hiking and cross-country skiing enthusiast, a champion of caring for our lands, a proud Norwegian, an outdoor business owner, and a mentor to a generation of students through the Alpine Club he initiated with students at Wenatchee High School.
Bill had a heart throughout his life for people who were struggling, in large part because he grew up in difficult circumstances. He ran away from home in the Anchorage area at the age of 12. At 14, the strapping young lad who looked much older was cutting wood and working in a cannery in Fairbanks and later made his way down to Seattle and ended up milking cows in Carnation to make ends meet.
Randy remembered his dad recounting tales of hitchhiking all over the countryside and knocking on farm doors to sleep in barns at night, and of times walking home from cutting wood listening to the wolves howl.
Bill did get “saved” a time or two by his grandfather, who at one point arranged for Bill and his two brothers to stay with a family in Plain as an unofficial foster home — a family that Bill treasured and honored to the end.
It was these challenging life experiences that inspired Bill to become a teacher and, in the mid-1960s, start the Alpine Club at Wenatchee High School with a group of eager students, including Mark Shipman and later Peter Valaas and Pete Rutherford, all of whom went on to a career in medicine in the valley.
The Alpine Club allowed Bill to give the gift of his passion for the outdoors to students. Students learned skills in rock climbing, hiking and mountaineering. Bill was a master of figuring out how to solve challenges when things went wrong — gear broker or the weather brought unexpected difficulties, Randy remembered. “Dad really enjoyed the Alpine Club and said it was one of his greatest accomplishments,” said Randy.
In the late 1960s, Bill was having a hard time getting decent outdoor equipment and that led he and his wife Janice to start a sideline business of selling climbing, hiking and nordic ski equipment in their garage.
That was a hit in the community and ultimately led to opening up Asplund’s Outdoor Sports on North Wenatchee Avenue.
Bill’s love of the outdoors also led him to be deeply involved in the fight to develop the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the North Cascades National Park. Randy recalled the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as quite heated and that many in the community opposed were unhappy with his dad’s involvement. But Bill persevered because he felt it was the right thing to do.
Shipman is a good example of someone deeply influenced by Bill Asplund who has devoted his life to building community. The kids who participated in Alpine Club, he said, learned how to protect the wilderness and manage any manner of challenges along the way. Climbing a peak like Mt. Rainier requires “an awful lot of persistence and plodding along and knowing if you don’t give up…I’m going to get to the summit and it’s going be awesome,” he added.
When Janice was struggling with Alzheimer’s, Bill was a constant presence as she walked that difficult journey.
Bill’s tremendous heart made a meaningful difference for his students, his family and our community.