Wallace Collier, Northside ‘giant,’ passes

wallace collier photos 3Wallace Collier, born June 25, 1923 in Minneapolis, was “a giant” on Minneapolis’ North Side, say his family and friends. He passed away July 24 at age 92. His funeral was at Ascension Church on July 31, and he is now buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

As an amateur boxer, Collier as a light heavyweight defeated Rocky Marciano before Marciano later became a world champion. “He talked about that, and he also had the chance of Joe Louis being an honorary referee of one of his fights,” said Collier’s son Matthew Collier. “He fought Rocky three times and won once.”

“We all knew [that] he beat Rocky Marciano,” added Garcia, a 1978 North High graduate. “That’s why no one messed with him.”

Although he didn’t pursue a pro career, Collier often worked with local youth boxers as a Golden Gloves volunteer. And he rarely missed a televised fight over the years, said Matthew. “You definitely knew he was a boxer because he was always bobbing and weaving. He had a real love for boxing and tried to watch every match, whether it was a small undercard or the main event.”

Collier also ran the North High weight room: “A lot of kids who played football liked my dad because he showed them how to do it,” noted his son. “He was able to bench press 500 pounds in his 50s.”

“There wasn’t a student, male or female, that didn’t love him,” added Garcia.

Collier, a North Minneapolis native, served three tours of duty in three wars — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — during his 26 years in the U.S. Army. “He was in the Philippines and was stationed in Germany. He went in when he was 18,” noted Matthew. “His dad was in World War I, but they couldn’t participate because he was Black. All they did was dig ditches.

“In Korea, he and his men built a guard post during heavy fire, and it’s called ‘Guard Post Collier,’” continued Matthew proudly. His superior officers wanted it named after Collier in honor of his services. “When [Ronald] Reagan was president and when he went to Korea, he visited that guard post.”

Not unlike many of “The Greatest Generation,” Collier didn’t talk about his war experiences a lot, explained his son. “I actually only saw him cry twice — once was when my uncle passed away, and he was in the Navy, and the other time when he was watching Saving Private Ryan, and he actually saluted the TV.”

After his retirement from the service, Wallace Collier served as dean of students at North High School for almost 20 years. “Wally cared more than anyone else about the North Side,” declared Garcia. “He kept us all in line.”

“He was a big guy,” added Naomi Williams, who grew up with Collier and was close friends with his sister. “People thought he worked out, but he naturally looked that way.”

Collier “walked the streets on the North Side. He helped anybody in the neighborhood. You could always call on him,” said Garcia.

“My grandfather was my hero not because he served in three wars but because of the time I spent sitting on his lap,” admitted Tessa Mullen, the oldest of five grandchildren. “He loved his grandchildren.”

“You couldn’t wait for Santa Claus to bring Uncle Wally’s presents,” said nephew James Rivers. “He was a caring man. He was my uncle for 69 years.”

Sister Karen of the Visitation Monastery knew Collier, his wife Luella, and the rest of the family for many years. “He had a strong faith. He had a strong spirit,” she pointed out. “It is such a privilege to [have] known him.”

Collier was survived by Luella, his wife of 62 years; two sons, Mathew and Walter; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and a host of other family members and friends. Louise, a daughter, previously passed away.

Sister Karen noted that Collier’s wish was to see his grandchildren grow up.

“He was good in boxing,” said nine-year-old Riddik Collier, one of Collier’s five grandchildren.

Williams said of her friend, “He was a real nice guy. You would not find a better guy.”

“A true legend,” concluded Garcia.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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