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Mila Koumpilova, Published December 31 2009

Fearless leader: Stoic and undaunted, Walaker personified will of all flood fighters

Every time Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker managed to slip out of City Hall last spring, he grabbed his Nikon digital camera.

The camera traveled to key locales of the area’s epic flood battle: the Fargodome, bustling with volunteers; south Fargo’s Drain 27, where residents stood up to the rising water; Oak Grove Lutheran School, as a suspenseful standoff with the flood unfolded; and on board a Blackhawk helicopter.

By the time the floodwaters receded, Walaker had snapped some 300 shots along the way.

In the meantime, the focus was firmly on him.

While communities and other officials Valley-wide rallied to ward off encroaching waters, Walaker – a seasoned veteran of area flood fights – became the trusted source and face of the battle on both a local and worldwide level.

For that reason, Walaker is The Forum’s Area Person of the Year, which annually recognizes someone who sparked changes and discussion that most influenced our area this past year.

He’s practically a folk hero.

After Walaker famously said he’d buy everyone a beer if the flood fight turned out OK, beer currency – the “Dennis Dollar” – with his face on it circulated. A local Dairy Queen has a meal deal named after him and his favorite food combination.

Walaker, who plans to run for a second term in 2010, is also helping lead the charge for permanent flood protection in the metro area.

He’s cautiously optimistic about seeing it through, at least in time to spare his two grandchildren the frequent nerve-wracking clashes with the Red.

His flood album keeps his memories fresh and his motivation strong:

“Even now it’s awfully hard to believe what we went through,” he says. “Pictures provide a sense of reality.”

See the attached photo gallery for Walaker's photos.

Past Forum Area Person of the Year

The Forum Area Person of The Year recognizes someone who sparked changes and discussion that most influenced our area this past year.

Much like Time magazine’s Person of the Year, The Forum’s selection was made by editors after receiving readers’ suggestions.

The following are past Person of the Year winners:

2008: Fargo-Moorhead youths for their many volunteer efforts to better the community

2007: Tracy Briggs, WDAY radio personality and lead organizer of WWII Honor Flights

2006: Joseph Chapman, former North Dakota State University president, for leading the university to a higher profile


Inforum searchword: Person of the Year

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529