Years later, he could still recall the day — Dec. 12, 1970 — that he first met student teacher Curtiss Johnson, who went on to become a Snohomish High School colleague.
Walker could remember the names of all the students he had in his physics, trigonometry and advanced algebra classes over his 32-year career there, the year he taught them, and where they sat in his class, Johnson said.
His sonorous voice and commanding classroom presence left him open to satiric imitation. One student, who walked to the front of the room on the premise of solving a math problem, launched into his Mr. Walker shtick — complete with his right hand at his cheek to underscore a key point. Some of the loudest laughter came from the back of the room, from Walker himself.
His lifelong frugality came despite a family inheritance that left him wealthy by many people’s standards, Johnson said. Following Walker’s death last year at age 84, Snohomish attorney Bruce Keithly began the work of carrying out the instructions of his will.
Nearly everything he had — close to $1 million — will be split among four hospitals, receiving about $233,000 each.
“It was important to him that it go to a worthwhile cause,” said neighbor and fellow Snohomish High School teacher John Boling.
Years before his death, with no family of his own, Walker began thinking about what he could do with his money. At first, he thought he would make a donation to Seattle Children’s Hospital “because they do good things,” Johnson said.
Then, following his father’s hospitalization at Valley General Hospital in Monroe and his own heart surgeries at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, he included them on his list, too.
And for reasons even his friends aren’t quite sure of, there was one additional hospital included in his will, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, founded by Danny Thomas, in Memphis, Tennessee.
The fact that the contributions come from a single, retired schoolteacher wouldn’t surprise his friends, Boling said. “He was a thrifty person, but not ungenerous.”
One of his former students, James Brunner, who graduated from Snohomish High School in 1987, said he and Walker would sometimes spend a few minutes talking before his first-period class.
“He obviously had a pretty good impact on me,” Brunner said. “You’re a high school senior trying to figure out what to do with your life. I had an affinity with math and sciences. One of my options was to become a math or science teacher.”
Brunner said he remembers Walker telling him that as a teacher he would be happy, “but you’ll probably never be rich.” Brunner now lives south of Denver and works as an electrical engineer. He said he still considers making a career switch to teaching.
Walker built a house on Dutch Hill near the Pilchuck River in 1963. He later installed a pipe organ in his living room, then replaced it with an electronic organ. He was good enough to play songs composed by Bach but declined Johnson’s invitation to play publicly at his church.
Brunner said Walker’s fastidiousness was displayed in many ways. One involved the pipe organ. “It was a fun toy for him,” he said. Yet one of its low notes would cause vibrations throughout the house. He wasn’t happy until he found the cause of each of the noises.
Walker lived fairly close to where Brunner grew up. “After every weekend jaunt, he’d vacuum out his vehicle,” he said. “All his cars looked showroom-quality new.”
Walker graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in education and earned a master’s degree in education from Seattle University.
He began his teaching career in Naches, in Eastern Washington. But as his parents grew older and moved from Lake Forest Park to Duvall, Walker wanted to be closer to them. “He was very devoted,” Boling said. “He was lucky enough to find a job in Snohomish.”
It wasn’t until after he retired that he finally loosened some of his self-imposed bounds on frugality. It began one day when Johnson, who owned a small sailboat, asked him to go sailing. When they returned and were walking on the dock, Walker spotted a boat that was for sale. “He said, ‘You know, a man could have a lot of fun with those,’ ” Johnson said.
Walker soon became an enthusiastic boater and had a 32-foot American Tug commissioned in La Conner. “I was enjoying seeing him enjoy his life,” Johnson said.
One of the few assets from Walker’s estate that wasn’t sold was his Rodgers 835 electronic organ, made in Hillsboro, Oregon. When Walker purchased it in 1992, it cost $28,500.
Walker’s attorney initially put it up for sale on Craigslist. Marvin Horton, a member of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Oregon, who repairs organs for a hobby, spotted it and contacted Keithly. The Snohomish attorney ultimately decided to donate it to the church. “There’s no telling what it would cost new now,” said Ronny Cooksey, the church’s pastor.
Horton and his son drove to Snohomish and packed up the instrument in a 15-passenger van with the seats removed. The organ was in such good condition that about all he had to do was replace a couple light bulbs and hook up it to speakers.
Horton said he’s eager for it to become part of the church’s services. His first choice for a song to play on it might be the familiar hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”
Brunner, Walker’s former student, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the way Walker chose to use his money to benefit charitable organizations.
“He was a giving guy,” he said. “You could see that in the way he gave back to the students in his classes in terms of respect, his teaching and his overall caring attitude.”
Johnson, Walker’s fellow teacher, said his friend had a strong moral compass. “He wouldn’t lie to you, but he wouldn’t lie for you either,” he said.
“So, yup, he was a character ... and he was well loved by a lot of people.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, email@example.com.
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