November 15, 1934 – October 14, 2019
Walter A. Canney passed away peacefully in his sleep at home on October 14, 2019. Born in Chicago on November 15, 1934 to Walter H. Canney and Cora Tour Canney, he was the 3rd of four children. Walter's mother Cora was widowed at an early age and moved the family to her hometown of Madison, South Dakota, where she taught school, eventually becoming principal.
Growing up between his family's farm near Lake Beduce, SD - the Swiss Colony founded by his grandfather Tour's family and his mother's home in Madison, Walter graduated from Madison High School in 1952 at 17. After a summer cross country tour by automobile with his cousin - he immediately enlisted in the United States Navy during the Korean War era - even though the legal age was 18. His service included a 3-year tour as a ground crew member for the Blue Angels. Upon discharge, he returned to Madison and attended Dakota State University from 1955 to 1957 – formerly General Beadle College. He eventually graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota in 1959.
In 1961 he married – the love of his life - Louella Jean Doyle of Alexandria, SD fellow alumni of Dakota State University. Teaching elementary school in Chicago at the time – he persuaded her to become his wife marrying on August 23rd. Together they raised three sons born in Madison, SD and a daughter born in Hannibal, MO.
Walter's career in the Electric Industry began in 1959 with the Rural Electric Administration (REA) in Washington DC. He returned to Madison SD in 1962 to serve as Assistant General Manager at East River Electric Cooperative. His work included testifying before the United States Senate in 1968 on behalf of the Public Works and Atomic Energy Commission. In 1970, he left East River and spent one year in Palmyra MO at the Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative - before embarking on a 26-year career with Lincoln Electric System (LES) hired as the first CEO. Challenges included combining two smaller utility companies that had been providing energy to Lincoln and surrounding communities, 50-year old transmission lines, consolidation of equipment spread over 25 locations, no comprehensive maps of city's systems in place among other problems. During his tenure, he laid the foundation and built the infrastructure that is now the modern LES including the fact that its service reliability is among the highest in the industry, at 99.99 percent. The ongoing electric rates have consistently been 9th lowest in a survey of 106 cities.
During his tenure at LES, Walter served as President of the American Public Power Association (APPA) and was a board member for 10 years. He received the Alex Radin Distinguished Service Award in 1989 in recognition of his exceptional leadership, innovation and commitment to public power. Walter also served as President of the Nebraska Power Association, Nebraska Municipal Power Pool, Missouri Basin Systems group and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.
Walter was also committed to public service beyond the Utility Industry. He served as a Trustee of the Nebraska Whooping Crane Trust as well as President for several years. Upon retirement from public service in 1997, he continued to be active as a volunteer in the Lincoln community and throughout the state focusing primarily on the Community Blood Bank as a donor and at the Veteran's Hospital - volunteering weekly.
In 2007, Walter provided funding for the “Joy Fountain” located in the Hamann Rose Garden. His gift to the City was to not only recognize his wife Louella battling Ovarian Cancer at the time but to honor all women in the community that worked as wives, mothers and community volunteers.
In 2015 he created the Louella Doyle Canney Memorial Scholarship Fund at Dakota State University, designed to help students pursuing career fields that mirrored Louella's passion for Education and Science. Awarded to a single recipient it was Walter's hope that the scholarship “will perpetuate the love for education in the recipients that was instilled in Louella as a young girl and that she passed on to her children and grandchildren. In June of 2015, he was named Dakota State (DSU) Philanthropist of the Year.
In 2017 he created the Walter Canney Veterans Support Endowed Fund with the Lincoln Community Foundation to support Veterans and service members. The focus of the Fund is to provide support in the areas of Education, Employment, Health and Human Services.
Walter was known to enjoy politics, growing tomatoes, roses and a good dry gin martini. He was not afraid to share his quick wit, strong opinions, value of education, care for the community and a love of adventure in traveling - especially when it included family. He was actively able to share these ideas with his friends, family and grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.
Preceded in death by wife Louella Doyle Canney, parents Walter H. Canney and Cora Tour Canney and sister Ann Fisher. Survived by sons James Canney (Omaha NE), Steve Canney and Cynthia Pendergast (Edinburgh Scotland UK), Mark Canney (Lincoln NE) and Daughter Ellen and Wallace Webster ( Coos Bay OR) three grandchildren, Isabella Webster, Liam Webster and Amelia Webster (Coos Bay OR), sisters Martha Zara (Chicago) and Jane Bade (Chicago IL) and companion Janet Greenwald (Lincoln NE).
Walter was a member Saint Joseph's Catholic Church. Funeral Services are pending. Memorials should be directed to the Lincoln Parks Foundation “Joy Fountain Endowment”, the “Louella Doyle Canney Memorial Scholarship Fund” at Dakota State University (DSU) or the “Walter Canney Veterans Support Endowed Fund” at the Lincoln Community Foundation. Condolences at www.roperandsons.com