The Green Valley man who died when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Seeley Lake, Montana, late Saturday left behind a legacy of mentorship and helping others in the communities where he lived.
Charles E. Wolff, 67, of Green Valley, and Wayne D. Cahoon, 59, of Seeley Lake, Montana, died when the Cessna 172H Skyhawk went down north of Seeley Lake Airport. Wayne’s son, Christian Cahoon, survived and on Monday made it through the first of what is expected to be many surgeries at a Seattle hospital, according to Charlie’s wife, Peggy.
The Cahoons were family friends and have been “rooted in the [Seeley Lake] community forever,” Peggy said at her Green Valley home Tuesday. Wayne ran a log home business and just three weeks ago helped one of Peggy's sisters move one onto her property.
Charlie grew up on a farm, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked at Boeing for 30 years in Seattle managing design engineers. He retired 12 years ago and he and Peggy moved to Green Valley.
The couple would spend their Christmases golfing in Phoenix. Peggy had been reading about Green Valley and on a whim suggested they drive down one Christmas Eve to check it out. They bought their house the day after Christmas.
“We just knew,” Peggy said. “People here are so friendly. We just had a strong sense of people our age enjoying life."
“He’s a loss to this community, the Seeley Lake community, his family in Wisconsin... friends in Seattle,” she said, sitting with sisters who flew from Montana to be by her side.
They all agreed. Charlie was a “uniter of people” who loved to bring out the best in others.
The couple never had children of their own but Uncle Charlie held a special place in the lives of all his nieces and nephews, the sisters said. He would bring out the best in them through mentorship and encouragement.
One of her sisters shared the story of a nephew getting called into the office of a professor this week who’d lost his wife in an accident, knowing the young man was struggling with his uncle’s death. He told the nephew to “take something of Charlie’s life that he gave you and make it part of your legacy.” She said it’s something they all want to do now.
Peggy comes from a family of eight sisters and two brothers; Charlie is survived by two sisters and a brother who live in Wisconsin.
Charlie was president of the Seeley Lake Flying Club, a six-handicap golfer, an active member at American Legion Post 66, and he led an investment group for the Green Valley Computer Club. He was also a monitor at the GVR woodworking shop and former president of the Soledad Homeowners Association. He also chaired the Green Valley Council’s Road Committee.
“He was pretty damn perfect,” Peggy said. “Except he was messy, he was my little piglet. But that was OK.”
Tony Day, Charlie’s neighbor and best friend, developed a bond with Charlie he said he’d only had with two other people in his life.
The two were known for helping neighbors with household projects. “No job too big or too small,” said Day, a former contractor. They would install towel holders, fans, microwaves; anything that needed to be done they took on.
When neighbors started offering money for their services the men donated it to kids who another neighbor worked with at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Pima County. They also donated proceeds to Continental School families for supplies and summer school tuition. Neighbors would give more than the going rate knowing it would be going to a good cause, Day said.
When the two golfed (Charlie was the better golfer), Charlie was known to hand out candy to golf course employees, his own way of reaching out and getting to know them better.
Day called Antonio, a groundskeeper from Torres Blancas, Tuesday and broke the news to him; Antonio arrived at the Wolff’s house 15 minutes later. When Antonio saw Peggy he gave her a hug and they cried together, Antonio in disbelief. He said Charlie was a good man.
Day shared a theory he had about Charlie, that Charlie “changed when he came here.”
“I think when he was young he was just a scallywag... and then the last years of his life he was close to perfect. Nobody could maintain that level of perfectness for 67 years, impossible!” Day said.
But Day’s theory was “blown up” when he met some of Charlie’s older friends and found out he was pretty much the same Charlie his whole life.
”The greatest man I ever knew,” Peggy said.