WISHON — Virginia Walton Pilegard of Wishon, California, passed away January 13, 2022, at the age of 79. She was born on December 21, 1942, in Fresno, California, to Ralph and Helen Walton and was raised in foothills of Hildreth, California. While working in Jones Store at Beasore Meadows, she met the love of her life, Richard Pilegard, and they wed on August 30, 1963. They remained happily married for 58 years.
Virginia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Fresno and a Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Mathematics from Fresno Pacific University.
She was an elementary school teacher in Fresno and became a world-renowned award-winning author of mathematical adventure children’s picture books. She also penned Christian contemporary mystery/romance novels.
The most important part of Virginia’s life was her passion for Christ. Over the years, she was a strong leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Easton and Sierra Pines Church, Oakhurst. She was involved in a variety of ministries such as leading Bible studies, participating in prison education and ministry, mentoring Celebrate Recovery groups, and speaking at women’s faith conferences. Virginia also had a passion for quilting and loved being a part of Sierra Pines Church’s prayer quilt ministry group, Blessed Piecemakers. She lived out her faith inspiring those around her, even while in hospice.
She is survived by her husband Richard Pilegard, her brother Ralph Walton and his wife Nancy, her sons Neil Pilegard and wife Barbara, Timothy Pilegard and wife Debbie, William Pilegard and wife Melissa; along with many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and dear friends.
Those are the facts.
But there was so much more to Virginia Walton Pilegard than “just the facts.” I was honored to know her from the beginning of her writing career when we both attended classes with well-known Fresno teacher Elnora King, somewhere back in the early 90s.
I was there the first night she attended, and she proudly read what would eventually become her first published children’s book, The Warlord’s Puzzle. In that first book every other word was an adjective, and it seemed every adjective was modified by an adverb. She was horrified when Elnora and students said that wouldn’t do. She flounced out of class, and none of us were sure she’d ever return. She did, but “flounced” became one of our favorite vocabulary words as we remembered that night and laughed about it over and over. She studied with Elnora for years, and she became a prolific and honored writer and possibly one of the most successful of Elnora’s students.
In 2015 she won the distinguished Latino Literacy award for Best Educational Children’s Picture Book– Bilingual, at the ILBA Awards Ceremony in San Francisco for Don Ratoncito Perez and the Apprentice Tooth Fairy.
We collaborated on some short stories (called “confession stories” back in the day) and published a few including our crowning achievement, “Yappy Hour,” published in Woman’s World. When author Sunny Marie Baker and I published our own first short story, I raced over to Virginia’s to celebrate — dancing up and down like kids in front of her mother, Helen Walton, who was always Virginia’s biggest supporter.
She blessed me with a glimpse back into her life on the ranch in Hildreth where she grew up at the foot of Crooks Mountain.
We celebrated victories and mourned passings; we shared pets and reminiscences. One of our most inglorious memories was a trip to Morro Bay, accompanied by Dick and Virginia’s then-dog Fox, a Shiba Inu loveable terror. Fox escaped from their room and led four of us on a merry chase all over town trying to track him down. He was finally located — sitting in a police car back at the motel where we stayed. The officer apprehended Fox, without our knowledge, as he tried to make his break. Fox was taken to doggie jail, and Dick and Virginia had to pay $65 to get him out of hock.
Over the last few years we saw each other rarely but kept in sporadic touch mainly through Facebook or the occasional visit when Dick and Virginia would stop by Visit Yosemite | Madera County. Yet I always knew she was just a phone call or a Facebook post away, always with that glorious smile that lit up her being.
She inspired everyone she met, she had a world of friends and a delightful family. Even if you didn’t share her brand of faith, you knew she was a woman who “walked her talk” with every step. Even in illness she never lost her laugh, and you wished you could be just like her “when you grew up.”
Virginia Pilegard was one, like Betty White, about whom you could say no matter her age, she left us much too soon. There are those who have a major impact on those around them. Virginia was one of them, for me and for many others.
The family asks that any remembrances be made to the Fresno Mission.
Graveside services to honor Virginia and celebrate her life will be held at the North Fork Cemetery on Monday, January 24, 2022, at 1 pm.
Photos are from Sierra News Online archives. Thanks to Jack Kirchert for sharing Virginia’s family’s obituary with me.