‘Asset to community’ Wally Caryl dies after 35 years of U service

Joanna Dornfeld

The man responsible for keeping nearly 14,000 fans safe at Gophers men’s basketball games died Monday.

Wally Caryl, 79, director of the University Emergency Management Department and a 35-year University employee, died of natural causes at his home in Medina, Minn.

“Pretty much everybody at the University knew Wally, and most of them owed him a favor,” said Jusdon Freed, acting director of emergency management. “He was as much a picture of the University as the buildings are.”

Caryl joined the University in 1967 as the first director of what was then called the Office of Civil Defense. He later created the first emergency plan of its kind for a college or university.

Although the University’s disaster-planning needs changed over the years, Caryl’s dedication never faltered.

“Wally was extremely proud of the accomplishments made at the University,” said Dorothy Caryl, Wally’s wife. “He often said working with these people made him young.”

When Como neighborhood residents were forced to evacuate their homes due to a major fire in 1995, Caryl made sure buses were available for the residents to sit in and stay warm.

In 1963, Caryl led the crusade to require seat belts in Minnesota vehicles.

Caryl was also a prominent
figure in civil defense circles and served as secretary to the U.S. Civil Defense Council from 1967 to 1970.

“He’s a real asset to the community and brought many resources to us when we were managing critical incidents,” said University police Capt. Steve Johnson.

But Caryl was perhaps best known for his work at University men’s athletics events, Freed said.

“He attended virtually all of the home football, hockey, basketball and most baseball games,” said Richard Feist, men’s athletics team physician.

Despite health problems in the last year, Caryl still attended many of the games.

Caryl was enthusiastic at every event he covered, regardless of the outcome, said Jeff Schemmel, senior associate men’s athletics director.

“We not only lost a great professional who was a fixture at our athletic events, but we also lost a wonderful person,” Schemmel said.

Caryl created the University’s Emergency Medical Response Team in 1979. The volunteer service provides first aid and ambulance service to all Gophers athletics events.

“He was on the sideline of every game just to make sure everything went all right,” Freed said.

University junior Dusty Lee, who has volunteered for the medical response team since 1999, said Caryl monitored the volunteers closely to ensure they were comfortable in their role.

“Even though we were volunteers, he came by and thanked us personally,” Lee said.

Caryl and his team were not only responsible for caring for players who were injured during the game but also the fans who came to watch the Gophers play.

Before he and his emergency first-aid team left the arenas each night, Caryl checked with both the home and away teams to be sure there was nothing left for him to do.

Caryl managed the safety of as many as 14,000 people a night.

“It’s a lot of dedication for a man of that many years,” said Doug Locy, head men’s athletics trainer.

Caryl was scheduled to retire from the University on March 31. He had been on sick leave for the past three months.

Caryl is survived by Dorothy Caryl, his wife of 50 years; five daughters and seven grandchildren. His family is planning a private memorial service.

The retirement party planned by the Emergency Management Department for April 1 – to celebrate Caryl’s 35th anniversary with the University – has changed into a celebration of his life.