A Tribute to Becky Walstrom by Dr. Gladys Coggswell
The storytelling community in Missouri and beyond grieves at the unexpected loss of Becky Walstrom earlier this week. We at the Missouri Folk Arts Program thank master storyteller, author, and community scholar Dr. Gladys Caines Coggswell for writing a tribute to Ms. Walstrom, which we’re sharing here in its entirety.
Rebecca Sue (Hull) “Becky” Walstrom left a lasting impression on all of the lives that she touched. She was certainly one of Missouri’s invaluable treasures. She was born on April 6, 1948 in Eldon, Mo. and suddenly, shockingly left us on May 13, 2019 in St. Louis. About a week prior to her passing, we had been laughing and joking during the St. Louis Storytelling Festival (SLSF).
Becky grew up in Lebanon, Mo. She also graduated from the high school there with the class of 1966. She continued her education at Drury College, where in 1981 she earned two bachelor’s degrees–one in Business Administration and the other in Psychology; she was also on the Dean’s list. Becky earned her master’s degree in 1998 from the University of Missouri in Secondary Education with a minor in Adult Education. She was a wonderful, loving, and compassionate person, also extremely intelligent.
Becky was happily married to Charles Edgar Walstrom on September 3, 1967. Her face glowed even more than usual whenever she would mention his name. He was her soulmate for almost fifty-two blissful years. She loved him so dearly because he was her everything. I think that after Charles, she loved the people she surrounded herself with. They adored her, and she adored them. Then, came any person or aspect that was related to storytelling and the storytelling community.
On Friday, May 3, 2019, Lisa Overholser, the current director of the SLSF, gave special recognition to Nan Kammann-Judd and Becky Walstrom (previous directors of the SLSF) for their immense contributions to the festival upon its 40th anniversary. Lisa mentioned that she could call Becky or Nan at any time for advice, and it wouldn’t be too early or too late. They worked as if they were still getting paid. Becky was truly committed, as is Nan.
I know Lisa Overholser wasn’t expecting that night to be the last time Becky would receive special recognition from SLSF. I was reminded of the time Becky gave an interview to Angela J. Williams and I at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tn. Becky told us about her passion for storytelling and hoped it would live forever. I am a storyteller, and I, too, hope storytelling will live forever. I met Becky at the SLSF in 1992 when I was a Regional Storyteller, and later (1994) I was invited to perform as a Featured Teller by Nan–one of the most wonderful days of my life.
All of the SLSF community was very sad when Nan retired in the year 2000; Becky stepped right in as the new SLSF Executive Director and did a super job. She made Nan so proud of her. Of course, Nan let it be known that she would always be right there to assist in any way possible. Becky continued Nan’s practice of hiring the best storyteller’s for the festival. She was a master at grant writing and quite a traveler to other storytelling festivals. Becky could be found at festivals at the local, regional, and national levels. She was not a stranger to any storyteller who wanted her guidance or inspiration.
Before directing the SLSF, Becky had already been employed by the University of Missouri system–first in Rolla and later in St. Louis. Her relationship with colleagues was established long before she became Executive Director, and they were overjoyed at her new role.
Dr. Clark Hickman, Emeritus Association Dean and Emeritus Associate Research Professor in the College of Education at UMSL, shared the following with me: “Becky Walstrom was the consummate professional in directing the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. Her leadership style insured all were heard and everyone felt they were valued and critical to the Festival’s success. On a personal level, her quick smile, grace, and charm made her beloved and respected by all who met her and who had the good fortune of working with her.”
Becky once said that at times storytelling reminded her of an unwritten history book. There are many aspects of life that we wouldn’t know if someone didn’t tell the story about events or about people. Becky left us an incredible story that we have to research and tell. She is gone too soon from a sudden illness that could not be reversed. I will truly miss her.
I want to thank Ron Turner and Lynn Rubright, the co-founders of the SLSF. With the help of others, they have made it last for forty years–so far. Thanks also to Dr. Lisa Higgins, Director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program, for allowing me to write this tribute and for the important part she plays in keeping stories alive.
So long to Dear Becky. Rest in Peace; we love you.
Rebecca “Becky” Hull Walstrom’s obituary is available at the Shadel Colonial Chapel in Lebanon, Mo. https://www.shadelscolonialchapel.com/obituary/rebecca-becky-walstrom. “Memorials have been suggested to St. Louis Storytelling Festival (c/o 4207 Lindell Boulevard Suite 400, St. Louis, MO 63108).”