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Walter "Walt" Gislason

Walter "Walt" Bjorn Gislason, age 86, of Wayzata, passed away peacefully Saturday afternoon, Oct. 2, at Gables Care Center in Wayzata.

An outdoor visitation will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar.  Military honors will be provided by the Willmar American Legion Post #167 and the Minnesota Patriot Guard following a private Masonic service.  Memorials are preferred to The Barn Theatre, Willmar Area Shrine Club or a charity of choice. Walt and Raeanna gave generously throughout their lives to many organizations that supported veterans, education, the arts, and anyone who needed a helping hand. Arrangements are with Peterson Brothers Funeral Home.  www.petersonbrothers.com

Walter Bjorn Gislason was born on April 16,1935 in Minneota, MN to Virgil Voltaire and Mary Helen Gislason.  He grew up in Minneota and graduated from Minneota High School in 1954. Walt served in the U.S. Army from 1956-1958 at Fort Dix, NJ and remained a proud member of the American Legion and supporter of veterans throughout his life. He attended several colleges, earning a degree in business education from Minnesota State Mankato and a masters in speech and the dramatic arts from University of South Dakota.

Walt began his career teaching high school speech and business communications. He was a beloved director of high school theater and cheerleading coach. During these years, he spent 8 summers acting at The Black Hills Playhouse. It was there that he met his pianist wife, Raeanna. They married in 1964 and continued to summer at the Playhouse and maintain many cherished friendships from this era.

In 1971, Walt and Raeanna settled in Willmar, MN, where he joined his brother, Virgil, Jr. in growing the corner gas station into the iconic business now simply known as “Walt’s.” Walt’s car wash, oil change and convenience store continues to operate today and has provided meaningful employment to hundreds, including students, immigrants, and developmentally-challenged adults. Walt loved to impart his own brand of customer service and was often seen pumping gas and washing windshields for customers at the self-serve. In his office, he is remembered for talking on two phones at once. “Why else would God give me two ears?”

He became a well-known and loved community leader in Willmar—active in The Barn Theater, Rotary, Mason’s, and Shriner’s. He remained proud of his early years as a volunteer firefighter. At Walt’s he also hosted many fundraisers and free car wash days for veterans.

Walt was a man of many interests, including worldwide travel, fishing trips to Michigan and Alaska, and pheasant hunting with Raeanna’s family in Nebraska. He was an avid private pilot—flying for business and pleasure. He delighted in bringing passengers along and inviting first-timer flyers to help pilot the plane.

In 2019, he received a Cardinal Pride award for his years of community service, including philanthropic efforts to build the Bill Taunton Stadium. He and Raeanna enjoyed many Stingers games together before relocating to Wayzata, MN.

He is survived by his wife, Raeanna; daughter, Schele (Phil) Smith; son, Erin (Amy) Gislason and grandchildren, Ian, Naomi and Katie.

To plant memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Walter Gislason, please visit our flower store.


From the moment I first met Walt at the Black Hills playhouse to the photo in this remembrance, one could see in that smile a man of grace and love and pure delight to be treasured every day! Our world needs more Walts and I am so grateful to have met him along his journey.

Anne Valentin Hutcherson Aug 18 2022 7:03 AM

What a wonderful tribute video here to Walt and his family. You can see and I can hear that laugh of his in so many of those photos. The laughter and fun and love he showed his family and veterans, friends and students his whole life is more than I have ever seen in any other person. He was one of a kind. We are all truly blessed to have known Walt.Rae, I am sorry I did not know of Walt's passing until just now this morning when I saw it posted on the DHS Alumni Facebook page. My sympathies go out to you and your family. Many hugs, Connie Thompson Julien, DHS alumAttached is the 2007 Tribute to Walt and Rae! Such a wonderful, blessed couple! https://www.youtube.com/embed/QOWoAIz0sZY

Connie Thompson Julien Nov 8 2021 12:00 AM

It was a rare day that I wouldn't bump into Walt. I had the opportunity to do business with Walt's and I found that he treated, a "lowly" salesman, with respect, interest and honesty. He was always interested in what was new with my family. I got to know Walt better through the Masons and Shriners. But getting to know Walt was more complete when he introduced me to Raeanna. Walt always spoke highly about his wonderful wife, and help instill in others the importance of love and affection within, and outside, of a family. Thanks be to God for putting Walt in my path of life.

Jim Sherman Oct 31 2021 12:00 AM

I was one of the lucky ones who got to "help" fly his plane, an experience I will never forget! He was an awesome man and joy to work for!

Jane Saulsbury Oct 18 2021 12:00 AM

Every now and then throughout history a certain kind of person walks into the world who leaves a big footprint on the lives of many people. This man, this talented, generous man that we all know as 'Walt' happens to be one of those men. We are all so privileged to have known him in one way or another- and for that - this special man goes on to do more great things in the next place we go after we leave this Earth walk. Thanks Walt for giving so many and your wonderful family the years to create memories. You will be remembered so fondly by those of us left behind. Safe journey my friend.

Eileen Klinghagen Oct 16 2021 12:00 AM

My Sympathy

Mary Louise Wallin Oct 14 2021 12:00 AM

Many of Mr. Gislason's high school students (more than 55 years ago) still remember what a great speech teacher and drama coach he was. Walt remains memorable not only for his teaching expertise, but his easy-going personality and willingness to listen to our woes. Many sympathies to his family. I'm sure I speak for others in his classes at EHS, Eldora, IA -- in my case, Class of 1963

Barb Maddy Durbin, Portland, OR Oct 13 2021 12:00 AM

Prayers to Walt and family. We could type all day on how he was so happy to help other's. He will be missed SO MUCH not only as a neigbor but a great family friend. It has been very hard learning of his passing. Dwaine, Pat Walthers and Family

Dwaine and Pat Walthers Oct 12 2021 12:00 AM

We are so very sorry for your loss of this amazing man. What a blessing he was for this community. He will be missed by so many. Imagine what our world would be like if there were more people like Mr. Gislason. Fly high, Walt! You so truly deserve Heaven.

Kim and Ray Stenglein Oct 10 2021 12:00 AM

Walt was one of the best! Deepest sympathies

Linda Mead Oct 5 2021 12:00 AM

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