In memory, Donald R. Walker
3-18-1929 – 6-4-2019
This Father’s Day is especially hard for me, as it may be for many of you. This will be my first Father’s Day without my dad. One is never truly prepared for such a loss, even though it’s inevitable. I arrived home an hour before my dad’s death on June 4th. He was surrounded by my mom and two brothers. I have been reflecting on what I learned from my dad since that moment, and recalling memories that I can see in a new light.
My dad was adopted like me. At age three he moved with his adoptive parents (Lt. Commander Raymond Walker and Anne Roan Walker) from Norfolk Virginia to Long Beach California. Ray Walker was the chief engineer on the U.S.S. Utah in San Pedro, and Anne was an English teacher. In 1935 the Walkers moved to a ranch (now the Monte Verde Inn) in Forest Hill, California. Dad attended a one-room school house in McKeon, California. When Ray was called back to duty before WWII, the family moved back to Vallejo. The Walkers would continue to go to the ranch on weekends. The family moved back to the ranch in 1944, and Dad attended Placer High in Auburn. There he met his best friend Eugene Smith, who proceeded him in death by a few months. Dad joined the Navy in 1946, and went to boot camp in San Diego, CA. Dad boarded the President Jackson at Treasure Island to Honolulu, HI, and then the USS Atlanta where he was posted in the electronics division. He sailed to Australia, all over the Pacific, including Japan and China. Dad served four years. Dad went to the University of Seattle, Washington. On a stay back in Auburn to boost his GPA at Placer Jr. College (now the Placer Highschool campus), he saw Doris Keller walking down the street. Later Don and Doris were in the same algebra class (Mom was the only girl). Six months later they were married, and this March they celebrated 66 years together.
Don was a TV repair man, worked for the Auburn Lumber company,
and later became the Auburn City manager. In 1960 Wendell Robie offered Don a
job as a savings and loan branch manager in Woodland, CA. (He had seen Don
speak at a meeting and had known Ray Walker). Don learned the business at the
Davis branch where the Walker family rented and eventually owned a duplex. Don
became Yolo County manager of Central California Federal Savings and Loan, and
later moved the family back to Auburn in 1969 to become senior vice president.
The Savings Loan later became Heart Federal Savings and Loan and then was bought
by US Bank around the time Don retired.
More than a banker.
Dad was a builder. My dad built the houses we lived in, and they were always in various stages of completion, and usually about finished when it was time to move. My dad wore a tool belt around his waist on the weekends. There was always a deck to build. We had a garden, a green house and worm beds for fresh fertilizer. He would help erect swings in various trees on our property and even made a giant swing for me that was free standing, welded and anchored in concrete. My dad always had a workshop. Scraps of balsa wood, chains of extension cords, sanders, model airplanes, and craft paper covered work bench, all bring back fond memories of being in the shop with him. He would make me doll furniture and rings made of copper wire. He had a huge pile of scrap balsa wood scraps from building his model airplanes that were always available for whatever I wanted to make. On a moment’s notice one night, he made me a boat with a paddle wheel powered by a rubber band for the school boat race. As a little girl, I thought my dad could make anything in his magical workshop, and I’m grateful he allowed me into his sacred space to create alongside him.
My dad was a ham radio enthusiast. At one house we built, he had a huge radio tower that helped him talk to people all over the world. After dinner Dad could be found in his shop or on the radio.
Dad was a photographer. There was a room in one house that was always going to be a darkroom. He shot mostly slides and we would look at them through a projector on the wall. Dad gave me his old Nicca camera he had bought used when he lived in Seattle and taught me how to use it. That was a very instrumental part of me becoming an artist later on.
Dad was a learner, an avid reader and therefore wise. I would call Dad and after an enthusiastic “Hi Dy!”, I’d ask “What’cha doing?” Inevitably he would say he was reading such and such article about how to do such and such. He taught himself how to build a computer, how to invest and buy shares, and he never stopped learning. I will miss his guidance and advice.
Dad was an aviator. In his early days he owned his own airplane. When flying was on hold to raise his family, he built and operated radio-controlled airplanes. He would call and talk to me about color combinations for his planes. He wanted them to be snazzy and stand out in the blue sky. I have good memories of going with dad to the Auburn airport to see airshows or static displays. Dad and I had birthday a day apart. One year we celebrated by riding in the Sentimental Journey B-17 bomber at Falcon Field, Arizona. Later that night we attended the WWII swing dance and dinner, and dad danced with me, old style. On his 90th birthday this year, my brothers and I treated him to a biplane ride, he was so happy to be in the air again.
Dad was civic minded. He served. In Rotary, in Sirs’ Club, in government. I remember campaigning for various conservative candidates, attending rallies, getting signatures, and pounding in signs. Mom and Dad gave to causes they believed in, served on various committees, and contributed to society. In recent days when Dad and I would talk he was saddened at the state of the world. Even with his generation’s struggles, he really felt he had lived at the best of times. I will miss my political talks with him. He would encourage me by saying “the pendulum swings back and forth Dyana, back and forth, just wait a bit and things will change again.”
Dad taught me to throw and catch, how to watch the ball all the way to the bat and hit it hard. He taught me how to wash a car, and when I was maybe junior high age, how to stack wood. Dad was a hard worker who strived for excellence, and he wanted us to do the same. I remember when the pile of wood was delivered. He took me out and instructed me how to load the wheelbarrow, wheel it to the back of the garage, and stack the wood in an alternating pattern. It was a huge pile of wood. I think it was my summer project, in addition to watering every redwood tree he planted by hand with a slow running hose. Yes, there was a long list of chores, but I digress. Every day after work, Dad would come look at the wood stacking I had done. It was hot, and I moaned and groaned a lot. He made me redo much of my work because it was not correct. Later in life he admitted that he was perhaps a little hard on me, but he was teaching me to do my best. At the end of the job, he brought me a gift, which sits on my desk as I type. Two little owls sitting on a log. To this day, I sign my correspondences “my best, Dyana Hesson” as a way of checking myself. I am of course not perfect, and neither was my dad, but I always want to try my best, and that was taught to me by Dad.
My dad was handpicked for me by God, I do believe. I know not everyone has a great dad. That makes me sad. My dad was tender hearted. He was my advocate. He encouraged me and provided for my dreams. He helped me to see who I could be. He said to me once in an email “Dy, the colors of your paintings are just stunning! The last one was particularly so. You ought to get more money for the colors you create. Dad”
Dad’s favorite poem was High Flight. I gave him a framed copy for his birthday in 2002, and he wrote this to me:
Princess, you could not have given me a nicer more thoughtful present. I will treasure it for all the days I have left. I first saw this poem in the pilot’s lounge in Auburn airport in 1946. It was published in flying magazine by Gail Robb Wilson who is the editor of FLYING at the time. I always thought that he had written it. Now I find out who the real writer was due to your thoughtful gift. I have repeated those words “oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” many, many times during my life over and over again. In 1946, I liked to fly on days when the clouds billowed up and created canyons of clear air between them. They looked like gentle giants when I flew up and around them in the clear blue sky. At the time I owned an open Cockpit PT- 19 with an eight-cylinder Menasco engine that seemed to just purr as I flew along. The open cockpit just made the clouds seem all the closer. All the while I was thinking of this poem. It would have been a more emotional feeling if I had known who wrote it, and the circumstances when it was written. Just a few weeks ago I gave some thought to looking up a poem and getting a copy of it. Somehow you must’ve heard me. Yes, I do think that you touch the face of God when you fly high and alone and those beautiful clouds. Much love, dad
Fly High Dad, I love you and miss you.