635 Sargent Avenue
Walter Zielke-Reusch was a well known kindhearted and much loved mentally challenged WestEnder. He loved to retrieve items from dumpsters, repair them, and then give them away to people in the neighbourhood. He could fix almost anything.
Location: NW corner Sargent & McGee; East Face
Occupant: Zoohky Memorial Hall (Winnserv Bingo Hall)
District: West End
Neighbourhood: Daniel McIntyre
Artist(s): Jill Sellers (Jill Sellers Design)
Sponsors: West End BIZ, Neighbourhoods Alive! (Manitoba), Winnserv, Take Pride Winnipeg!
Painters: Additional Funding: In Memory of John Hjaltason
In 2003, West End BIZ and Winnserv partnered in a noble project that has resulted in a
beautiful Mural and the renaming of the Winnserv bingo hall to the "Zoohky Memorial
Hall." The Mural is one of a growing number in the West End BIZ series of Murals on
"Local Heroes and Famous People", and is an acknowledgment of a true West End local
hero: an eccentric individual who nevertheless contributed immensely to his community.
Walter Zielke Ruesch (Zoohky) was born on April 2, 1928.
Trudy Turner (Executive Director, West End BIZ): "Anyone who grew up in Winnipeg's West End knew Zoohky. For most
of his life, Zoohky spent his days cycling through the area: taking broken toys, stereos
and bicycles out of local dumpsters; fixing them up and providing them to youngsters who
needed them. He had great mechanical skills and would often assist people with their
cars, furnaces and other projects- not asking for payment but simply the reward of being
of service. He was also local a 'poet laureate' who took great delight in reciting his verse
to local residents."
Erika Wiebe (Editor, West Central STREETS community newspaper): "Walter was the
skinny, gnarly, grizzled guy with a beard, big blue eyes, toothy smile and a voice like no
other. You had to really listen to understand him. His voice was half whispers and half
singing, except for very occasionally, when out would come a sentence of complete
"If you were child growing up in the West End you would remember Walter doling out
candy and making trades- maybe a pencil for some gum. He'd be riding his bike around,
checking for good garbage, jumping off old mattresses as if each were a trampoline. If
you were honest, you might admit that you were one of the kids that tormented him.
Walter got more harassment than anybody deserves in a lifetime. But there was also a
wide circle of kids who stood up for him and loved him. He was, after all, part kid, so
they had a lot in common."
Trudy: "He never walked anywhere- he was always on his bike; 24-7, winter, summer. It
had the big butterfly handlebars and the big steel basket. There were various things in the
basket, but the one constant would be a copy of the West End Streets, which had
published his Blue Danube poem and was his pride and joy! Anyone he met for the first
time he would pull out his copy of West End Streets and show his poem to them. And
that's why we had to show him in the Mural clutching his poem (Photo 2)."
Erika: "Walter loved poetry. He is the author of many poems, written neatly on scraps of
paper, pulled out of his pants pockets, shown to anyone vaguely interested. And he was
happy to recite them, delivering them in his usual sing-songy voice. There were common
themes running through his poetry: nature, the seasons, the River Danube, the beach,
mosquitoes, being at home with family and welcoming strangers."
Trudy: "The community loves the Zoohky Mural. It is probably the best community
project we've ever done in the whole West End. The local people in the community were
out at the wall, literally in tears. This was just a normal guy; he wasn't a big shot; he
wasn't a doctor or lawyer or anything fancy. He was just an ordinary guy; and here we
are as a community honouring him. It made them feel like we really appreciate our assets
in the community. Canada Safeway for years and years donated pet food to Zoohky
because he kept some fifteen odd cats in his house and he adopted any stray cat he found.
Zoohky couldn't really afford to feed them because he had no visible means of
Erika: "Since Walter died, the stories about him just keep coming out, with everyone
speculating about the details of his life, such as where he was born and who was in his
family. Most of all, now that he is no longer here, we're realizing how Central he was to
the life of the community."
Walter Zielke Ruesch passed away on February 25, 2002 of a heart attack at age 73. The
Zoohky Mural and rededication of the Zoohky Memorial hall has touched the hearts of
many in the West End. It is a perfect way for Winnserv to acknowledge this exceptional
human being who added so much to the lives of so many (Winnserv is a local West End
organization whose mission statement is" to offer a variety of residential services for men
and women with a metal handicap through all stages of their life."). Local artist Jill
Sellers was commissioned to re-create Zoohky on the McGee side of the hall. She
required the use of a large hydraulic power lift to complete this towering piece of
artwork. Zoohky now stands some 35 feet tall and is shown proudly holding his poem,
"The Blue Danube".
The original 2003 Mural of Zoohky can be seen in photo 3.
Trudy: "Everybody loved the Mural, but the phone rang off the hook with 'well where's Zoohky's
bike?' Zoohky's bike was like his trademark: you never saw one without the other. So
the community was feeling bad that Zoohky didn't have his bike. After the article in the
Free Press appeared we started hearing from people sending in cheques and saying let's
help pay for Zoohky's bike. And so individuals and groups realized how much it
meant to the community and offered to contribute the rest of the funds that were needed."