If someone were nominating Joe Walker for a prominent space in Heaven, they would be making an old-fashioned “man who” speech.
Walker, who died Monday at the age of 86, was the man who started life in Wellington, Texas, the son of hardworking parents who bought a bakery they operated through the dark years of the depression of the 1930’s. One of Joe’s favorite memories was visiting that bakery after school each week day, at just about the time the cookies came out of the oven and eating “about a dozen.”
“It’s a wonder I didn’t gain any weight,” he would tell people when relating the story of how good the cookies and the other bakery goods smelled to a hungry young boy.
When he graduated from high school, he was the young man who hitchhiked from Floydada, Texas, to West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas, making the trip from home to school and back again as often as possible.
“I don’t know where they got the money to pay for his schooling,” his wife of 65 years, Joyce Walker, said as she and friends and family members shared their memories Tuesday afternoon. “But he was determined and he got his bachelor’s in education and history and started teaching English at the high school in the McLean, Texas, High School.”
Walker was the man who earned his master’s degree at Eastern New Mexico University in 1952 and that same year, married Joyce Gwyn in Muleshoe, Texas. He taught school at the junior high school in Muleshoe until 1956, when he came to Hobbs as a language arts teacher at Houston Junior High School.
He was also the man who served as assistant principal at Will Rogers Elementary for one year, taught extension courses for Eastern New Mexico university at night and English courses at Hobbs High School during the day and moved to New Mexico Junior College — first as an English teacher and then as chairman of the arts, business and humanities division and director of developmental studies.
Those accomplishments alone would have made him a distinguished citizen, but while he was doing all those professional things, he was a man who was excelling as a husband, father, friend and member of the community.
His wife, with whom he traveled the world, said they loved traveling together.
“When we looked at things in museums or markets, we always picked the same things to be interested in,” Joyce Walker said. “He was so much fun to travel with.”
His son, John, who is a retired teacher, said, “Maybe the most important thing about dad was that he was the man who was always there. He always could give me such wise advice. I took a job as a ‘boy Friday’ and I hated that job. The people there were bossy and hateful and mean to me and I called dad and told him I couldn’t stand it. dad told me to try a new tactic. ‘Go in tomorrow and ask someone what you can do for him or her. Do they want coffee or to get them something else in the office?’ So I tried it and after a few days, one of the women told me to come and sit down and tell her about my family and pretty soon, I loved that job. Dad’s advice was almost always good.”
Aretha Van Dyke, a family friend for more than 30 years, remembered Joe as a man of great intelligence.
“We were both educators,” Van Dyke said. “We shared a lot of stories about teaching. He was so dear in so many ways. He was an expert genealogist. He inspired me to work on my genealogy. And he had such a wonderful sense of people, what they liked and what they disliked. He loved simple things, like celebrating his birthday with a cake and candles.”
Shannon Bush remembered Joe as a man who loved pretty flowers.
“I admired his yard very much,” Bush said. “Although it was a kind of controlled chaos, he knew where every flower he had planted was and knew what he wanted the flower beds to look like. He was a really good guy, a guy who gave good advice.”
Walker was the man who started the junior college honor society at New Mexico College. He and Joyce took members of Phi Theta Kappa to different places on study tours throughout his years at the college, one traveling to Virginia to lean more about Thomas Jefferson.
“And we had them to our home to eat and just have fellowship,” Joyce said. “We both thought that was so important for students.”
Stewart Sroufe, who has attended First United Methodist Church with the Walkers for nearly 40 years, said, “We were great friends. There are so many things to remember about Joe. I am beholden to him in so many ways. He was the man who always helped me with the fund drive for the Palmer Drug Abuse Program; he was always out helping. If you had anything going on, he always volunteered. I served on committees with him and he always did more than he had to do. He was one of the really good guys. He has left behind a whole lot more than he took with him.”
Funeral services for Walker will be held at First United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. Thursday, with the Reverend Greg Kennedy officiating. Interment will follow at Prairie Haven Memorial Park. Visitation will be Wednesday from 9 a.m.-6 pm. and the family will receive friends from 5-6 p.m. at Griffin Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to FUMC for the Sacramento Family Life Center. Online condolences may be made to www.griffinfuneralhomehobbs.com.
Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.