From high school days to his last day on earth, Wally Cramer invested in the lives of others. His passing on Jan. 9, 2017, marked the end of an era for many dedicated to the sport of pole vaulting.
Coach Cramer is survived by thousands of students whom he coached in a variety of settings across the U.S. He is also survived by three sons, Derek; Wes and his wife, Kristin; and Austin; as well as his father, Walter, and sister, Charmaine.
Following his own successful pole vaulting career in high school in Lockport, Illinois, Wally enlisted and served in the U.S. Marines for 30 years. He also retired from a career with Caterpillar.
Jan Johnson remembers competing against Wally when they attended different Illinois high schools. After graduation, Wally went on to serve his country in Vietnam and received four medals for his service. Jan went on to college and eventually became the 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in pole vault.
Jan recalls Wally’s love of pole vaulting and how Wally returned to coach the sport after retiring from his military career. As the owner of Skyjumpers.com, based in California, Jan has hosted pole vaulting camps all over the country for many years. “Wally was always there to help me with the camps,” he says. “The kids loved him. He knew how to be tough and also how to help. As a pole vaulting coach, you have to be able to do both. You’re a suggester, and Wally knew that. The kids liked that in him.”
Throughout his adult life, Wally tirelessly dedicated his time and efforts to his students’ success. He coached pole vaulting at the high school and college levels, most recently at Olivet and Reed-Custer High School, Braidwood, Illinois.
“Wally spent 15 years coaching our Tiger pole vaulters and raising the level in that group,” says Mike McDowell, head coach of Olivet’s track and field teams
. “The greatest thing about him as a coach was that he invested in the athletes. He was a great friend to all of us.”
Second Lieutenant Ryan Hutton ’16 of the U.S. Army recalls Coach Cramer’s influence on him while he was at Olivet. “Wally brought me into the pole vault team when no other coach would,” Hutton says. “He loved on me more than anyone ever has in the sport I love so much. He also continually taught me how to take care of my soldiers in a very special way.”
One of Coach Cramer’s most successful protégés is Mark Hollis ’08. “Wally was so much more than just a coach to me,” Mark says. “He was a friend, a supporter, an employer, a surrogate father and a mentor.”
Mark credits Coach Cramer for giving him direction and encouragement at a critical time in his life. After he graduated from Olivet, Mark went on to a professional pole vaulting career. He is a two-time Olympic Trials pole vault finalist, a 2016 inductee into the NAIA Hall of Fame and the 2014 pole vault winner in the USA Outdoor National Championship.
“My buddy Wally was one of a kind,” Mark adds. “I'll never forget him and what he did for my life."