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Laguna Beach


Community and family remember Walter von Gremp and his legacy 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Although Walter von Gremp has always been known by residents as the founder of Sally’s Fund, he’s also been described as Laguna’s Pied Piper, fiercely loyal to his employees, a highly sought-after attendee at social gatherings, and by close friend Arnie Silverman, “one of the most generous men I ever knew.”

Sadly, he passed away last Saturday at the age of 92.

Husband to Ann for 64 years, he was the father of four sons – Tom, Bill, Jim, and Andrew – and daughter Katie, and grandfather to nine. 

Walt and Ann were quite proud that their children were able to be there for each other. Their sons Jim and Andrew acquired many properties “west of the 405,” and for Andrew, that time was more fulfilling than he’d imagined. 

Their eldest son Tom says, “Andrew gave me his DNA in a bone marrow transplant he went through when not running the rental units – 21 surprising years ago.” 

Walter and Ann were married in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1956. According to his family, she was his devoted caretaker for the last ten years while he was confined to bed. As a symbol of his love for her, he had a statue of a woman holding an infant placed across the street from the Post Office on Forest Ave.

Community Walter closeup

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Walter von Gremp

Both von Gremps were extremely active in the community for many years. Ann continues to live in Laguna among family and friends and until last year served as treasurer of Sally’s Fund. Walter was voted Patriots Day Parade Citizen of the Year in 1992, served as president of Little League for two consecutive years, was the originator of what became the Shaw’s Cove Yacht Club, and, of course, was the founder of Sally’s Fund. He also contributed to multiple causes and organizations such as the local VFW.

Walter was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, while his father was a captain in the army. Tom says, “Back then, the military moved them around every five years, so my grandfather left the service, and they relocated to the West Coast.”

In 1940, eleven-year-old Walter lived in Los Angeles with his father Walter and mother Sally.

Walter attended UCLA and after spending time in Brentwood, moved to the San Fernando Valley. The von Gremps continued to support UCLA and in 1988, the von Gremp Workshop in Economic History graduate degree program was inaugurated.

In 1977, from a bedroom in their San Fernando Valley home, Walter started an insurance company which ultimately turned into a 12-and-a-half-million-dollar company with 125 employees.

However, in the beginning, the original company was very much family run.

Community Walter and family

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Walter and Ann with family

Tom says, “I was president and my mom was chairman of the board. She was the power behind the throne. In 1982, my family decided to leave the San Fernando Valley and moved to Laguna Beach. We had a small office above Reef Liquor. Then my father built an office on South Coast Hwy – across the street from what is now Mozambique – and we had 100 employees. It was wonderful to be able to work with him there. Then he built another building in Laguna Hills, and 95 percent of the employees continued with him.”

At the time, his business was the largest privately owned company in Laguna. Walter sold it to a Chicago-based company in 1996, and he retired in 1997.

“He really looked out for his employees,” says Tom. “It was very important to him that the people who worked for him in Laguna Beach would be taken care of. When he sold, he made certain that the employees were guaranteed a contract for three years.”

Successful and astute as a businessman, Walter had a fun side too, his family and friends attest.

Community Walter in tuxedo

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A black tie affair 

“Every afternoon at a certain time, weather permitting, he’d go down to Shaw’s Cove, and he and a bunch of his friends would play gin rummy,” says Tom. “It became the Shaw’s Cove Yacht Club, and they even had a flag. My parents were very well liked and would be invited to all the social gatherings, and sometimes I’d tag along.”

In an accompanying remembrance piece, Arnie Silverman talks about another group at the Coffee Pub, where Walter was also the leader. 

Tom says, “They would meet there at the Coffee Pub every day to talk and pretend they ran the world.”

Walter’s granddaughter Ashley shares a memory, “He was a wonderful and caring grandfather to all of his grandchildren, always ready with a huge hug and a silly joke. Christmas won’t be the same without his annual, very animated reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. And no one had a memory like my Granddad…he could tell you a story from any point in his life, remembering every street name and every detail, making all of the tales he told so rich and full, keeping you on the edge of your seat!” 

Community Walter and Sally

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Walter with his mother Sally

Of all his legacies in the community, the most well-known is Sally’s Fund. 

Walter’s son Jim and his wife Steph maintain positions on the Sally’s Fund board and continue Walter’s efforts for the nonprofit, which meant so much to him. 

Tom says, “Liz Breem is in charge of making certain all the ‘I’s’ are dotted.”

Considered a vital part of the community, Sally’s Fund was founded in 1982 when several local community members realized how many seniors were being forced into institutional living because of a lack of transportation. Walter was moved to take action after reading stories in the local paper detailing the struggle some of his neighbors had while trying to stay in their homes. 

Realizing the need was even greater than initially thought, Walter and Ann provided “significant financial support” to the organization, which was able to hire some part-time employees as a result. This new, more formal organization became Sally’s Fund, named in honor of Walter’s mother who had recently died. It became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity in 1986.

Before the pandemic, every year there was a home tour fundraiser at Emerald Bay. 

“The bridge between isolation and community” is how Rachael Berger, Sally’s Fund managing director, describes the work her organization does for seniors. 

Which is exactly what Walter achieved during his long and productive life – he brought comfort and connection to lonely seniors, and joy to his family and friends. He will be missed.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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