Wally's World: Remembering Sunnyside's popular swimming hole
The Sunnyside community, an area identified with Happy Valley, was once home to a special oasis. On private property surrounded by cedar woods, it was a popular swimming hole that was a must see destination for thousands of locals, and a heaven on earth for one generous man. His name was Wallace "Wally" Melvin Hubbard. This is his story and remembering the world he created.
Wally was born on July 29, 1922, to Walter and Alma Hubbard. The Hubbards owned property along what is now 142nd Avenue, midway between Sunnyside Road and Highway 212. Walter was a farmer and a lifelong resident of Sunnyside, while Alma was born in Germany. They had 10 children together with Wally being the seventh. He had four brothers and five sisters. He attended Milwaukie High School where he was a freshman in 1936-37 but did not appear in subsequent yearbooks. As a teenager, Wally worked as an unpaid laborer on the family farm. He was drafted into the Army during World War II and served in the Medical Corps in New Caledonia in the South Pacific and Okinawa, Japan.
In about 1946, a natural occurrence would impact Wally's life. A giant tree fell across Sieben Creek and created a spontaneous dam on the Hubbard property. The new pond gave Wally an idea to turn the impeded creek into a swimming hole for local kids. But before he pursued that, Hubbard re-enlisted in the Army because he felt called by God to do so. After he returned home in 1949, Wally refocused on the swimming hole idea. With the help of his brothers, they built a concrete dam nine feet high, five feet thick and 80 feet wide with an outlet in the middle that could be closed with wooden planks. After Wally's Dam came to fruition, he re-enlisted again — his third stint in the Army — during the Korean War. After a few more years of service, he returned to his seven and a half acre world to live.
He then transitioned from serving his country to serving his community. Wally worked mainly as a substitute mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Clackamas until 1981 when he retired. When he wasn't working or maintaining the dam, Wally loved climbing Mount Hood, ascending Oregon's highest point about 48 times in his life. As a Christian, he felt the mountain brought him closer to God. One of Wally's climbs almost became a disaster in 1976. While leading a climbing party of five they slid 80 feet into a crevasse while descending the Hogsback on the upper slopes of Mount Hood. They survived with only cuts and bruises.
As the years went by, word spread about Wally's Dam and the swimming hole became a local attraction. He offered the pond for free with admission being granted if visitors attended church or Sunday school at least twice a month. There was also no cussing, no smoking, and no drinking allowed. Church groups, families and picnickers journeyed there during the summer to enjoy the 8-foot deep water and its shady cedar surroundings. In 1966, Wally and some family members constructed a 60-foot water slide, 25-feet high, made of wood, lined with fiberglass and kept slippery with running water. The new addition made the swimming hole even more popular. Children would ride their bikes from as far as Gresham to swim in Wally's Dam. Hubbard provided a picnic table, wooden rafts, rubber inner tubes, and a hemp rope for kids to swing and splash into the water. If Wally wasn't around keeping watch, he hired a lifeguard. He extended the slide several times until 1971 when it reached a heart-pounding 340-feet long. Hubbard estimated that sliders could reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour before slamming into the water. Thousands of visitors enjoyed the dam over the years, sometimes hundreds would come in a single day.
Wally's generosity in sharing his private park was not without controversy. Injuries would sometimes occur, which Hubbard blamed on the careless exuberance of some young swimmers. County Sanitarian John Borden considered the water too dangerous to swim in because of its murkiness. Sunnyside-Happy Valley Fire Chief Milt Durham called the slide "hazardous" after watching injuries occur. The most serious accident happened in 1969 when 18-year-old Dean Mayer of Oregon City died of pneumonia in a Portland hospital after he fell from the slide and nearly drowned. The tragedy did not land Wally in any known legal trouble nor did it deter him from extending the slide even further. In 1971, when the slide reached 340 feet, the county charged Hubbard with building an unsafe structure. A trial date was set for October in Clackamas County Circuit Court. Hubbard's lawyer filed a response denying the slide was unsafe. But in September, Hubbard relented and allowed County Building Inspector Charles Bartl to direct a group of volunteers from the Clackamas County Homebuilders Association to remove 140 feet from the slide and reinforce it. The effort saved Wally from legal troubles and tests on the suspected unsanitary water proved otherwise. The swimming hole remained popular until 1991 when heavy rains washed tons of dirt, loosened by upstream housing construction, into the creek that filled the dam. The water silted up, the slide, rope swing and rafts went away, and the park lost its popularity.
Hubbard's generosity extended beyond the dam. He was an active member of Sunnyside Community Church. Rather than living comfortably, Wally gave away much of his money to support poor families living in India, Indonesia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and the Philippines, and to aid pastors and missionaries. He kept only enough money to eat and to drive around in an old car. He had no insurance or savings. After his house burned to the ground in the 1980s, rather than rebuild or move he lived simply in a little camping trailer. Serving others was more important to Wally than serving himself. Of the dam, he said, "I built it for God-fearing, God-loving people." One of his signs leading to the pond read, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Perhaps Hubbard got wise about the fun but dangerous slide and conceded that it needed to be cut back. Eventually it was removed altogether. Was he ignorant when it came to the slide's danger? In those days there was no North Clackamas Aquatic Park for kids to safely swim in and have fun. The closest alternative was the Clackamas River, which would have been far more dangerous for kids to swim in than Wally's Dam. Who knows? Maybe he saved the lives of many youngsters by creating his swimming hole.
The world Wally created made him into a beloved figure beyond his Sunnyside neighborhood. He just loved the kids and watching them have fun. As he was a lifelong bachelor and had no children of his own, this probably further inspired him to want to bring joy and share his land with his neighbors and their children. He dedicated his life to serving others: his country, his community, total strangers living on the other side of the world, and God. He wasn't perfect, but our world could be a little better if we were a little more like Wally. Hubbard died Jan. 29, 2008, and is buried in the Willamette National Cemetery.
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