By Avonlea Brown
The old man at the coffee shop
Dick Walker, known to many as Chief, sits in Beans and Cream, the local coffee shop. Rarely a morning goes by he can’t be found there, whether meeting a friend or his wife for coffee.
His shaking hand rests on a black cane and a cough wracks his chest. His head swivels to the right every time the door opens, watching students, teachers and townspeople stop in for coffee before going about their lives. Occasionally his face splits into a smile when he sees someone he recognizes.
“Back for your second round?” he asks a woman walking through the door.
“You caught me!” she says with a laugh and waves as she walks to the counter to order.
Many of the people sitting in the coffee shop would not recognize Walker as the man responsible for a legacy of service and connecting people that continues to influence Cedarville University positively.
Dr. James T. Jeremiah, at the time he was the school’s president, brought Walker to work on campus. Walker was finishing a degree in accounting at Bowling Green University and working at Camp Patmos in northern Ohio when Jeremiah visited to do some recruiting.
“I remember he told me, ‘I know you’re getting close to graduating and you want to get into the military, why don’t you come to Cedarville when you get back and maybe get a seminary degree?’” Walker recalled. “And so I got out of the Navy two years later and headed to Cedarville.”
Walker had visited Cedarville as a child with his church several times and later visited campus to see his older sister Joyce Walker (now King) when she was attending Cedarville. He had never thought to pursue ministry directly but saw an opportunity at Cedarville to combine his faith and education.
He held the positions of intramural director, residence faculty, Dean of Men, Director of Campus Activities and Alumni Relations. Walker strove to do his job to the best of his ability, making sure the only words that came to people’s minds when they thought of his work were “well done.” Over the course of 42 years, Walker contributed largely to the culture of community that Cedarville’s campus is known for.
The man who knew everybody’s name
Jeff Beste, director of development at Cedarville University, was a freshman when he first met Walker.
“I saw this old man walking towards me,” Beste recalls. “And as he passed me he said, ‘Hi Jeff.’ I was confused and I kind of stopped in my tracks.”
Beste later found out he had just met the Dean of Men and his soon-to-be boss. During his time as Dean of Men, a brief four-to-five year position, Walker made use of his incredible memory. As he walked around campus, Walker waved and greeted male students by name, often shocking them.
“As freshmen, we used to have to submit a picture with our application,” Beste said. “Dick Walker would get all of those pictures and memorize the face with the name so he could call us by name. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot to us.”
Walker managed to memorize the names and faces of nearly 500 male students every year. He often took his efforts to the next level during the semester and met with many of the students over lunch or coffee.
Walker used his position to connect himself with the student body, and when he was Campus Activities director he strove to connect the students to each other.
The man who brought community to campus
The events that Walker started and developed on campus all came about as a result of his desire to connect people.
“One of my proudest achievements for me is Getting Started Weekend,” Walker said with a smile. “I take a lot of satisfaction that a program I started 30 years ago is functioning. Of course, it doesn’t look the same but there are still a lot of pieces that are similar to what it was back then.”
He recalls freshman initiation before Getting Started was a formal affair. Students new and old would gather for a special dinner in the gym with staff and family, often dressing up for the event. Parents could still attend meetings similar to those offered currently on campus for support and information on financial aid and campus policies. Students met with their professors, but the entire thing lacked opportunities for students to have fun and create a community together. As director of Campus Activities, Walker felt it was his responsibility to make moving in a fun experience where students could connect.
The activities were “tweaked,” as he liked to say, and moved to the chapel. Students would enter through the back door and visit several stations where they could get their room keys and student IDs before entering the Alumni Hall for worship.
Getting Started eventually evolved into a campus-wide event for incoming students get a feel for campus life and make connections that last throughout their college experience. Walker designed Getting Started and other events with the hope that students would build community.
Many of the events he brought to Cedarville he witnessed at other universities or heard about from friends or fellow faculty. Walker often went to other campuses for meetings, festivals and events only to walk away with ideas to implement at Cedarville.
“Dick has always been an idea thief,” said Mark Matthews, who first met Walker as a student in 1978 and then worked with him for 21 years starting in 1984. “He would steal good ideas from anyone and everyone and keep a record of those ideas in note cards in his shirt pocket.”
Walker connected the student community through the events he brought to campus and connected students with the faculty and staff. Walker got students involved in helping him execute acts of kindness for faculty and staff members, often after hours.
“I remember one time I was working late and I walked into my office and a few kids were there,” Beste said. “I was confused and asked them what they were doing there and they kind of stuttered and mumbled something. Then I understood that they were part of Dick’s secret team of students and I let them go about whatever they were doing.”
The man who started a secret organization
Walker was the staff supervisor of a student group called CZ. He borrowed the idea from his alma mater Bowling Green, which had a similar group of students. Their membership was exclusive and kept highly secret.
“Walker wouldn’t even tell me who was on it when I worked closely with him,” Beste said.
CZ’s mission was to “encourage the student body and boost school spirit,” which often took the form of spontaneous acts of kindness.
During finals week, students would be pleasantly surprised by candy along the windows to encourage them in their studies. When a sports team did well in a game or tournament, colorful signs with congratulatory messages would appear around campus. CZ, with Walker’s guidance, uplifted the spirits of the student body and knit them closer every chance they got.
CZ promoted events, sports teams and school spirit on campus through The Rock, which they had brought to campus in 1978 with Walker’s help.
“I can still see the bulldozer rolling up Main Street,” Walker said. “We brought the Rock from the Cedarville Quarry, about five miles out of town, and put it by the Tyler building.”
The Rock did and still does provide countless opportunities for the student body, departments and organizations to express and promote themselves. As long as The Rock remains on campus, so do the memories of Walker and CZ.
CZ eventually faded from campus for no definite reason other than the absence of Walker. But their influence on campus remains in the memories of faculty, staff and alumni.
The man who was involved in everything
Walker also invested time and resources into the various other programs started by faculty. His contributions often boost the programs’ success.
“He worked behind the scenes to make a lot of activities and programs better,” Matthews said. “Even ones that weren’t a part of Student Services.”
Sandra Shortt, a retired adjunct professor that worked as Wellness Coordinator on campus from 1977-2011, remembers the support and help she got from Walker. One instance was when she tried to begin an activity to promote wellness among faculty members.
“I came in as coordinator and was looking to find one program we could do that would impact the most people’s health the most,” Shortt said. “The first thing I did was go to him, and I had an idea for a health fair but we ruled that out. He kept asking ‘What’s the purpose?’ over and over and that helped me understand what it was I wanted to accomplish.”
The two brainstormed and came up with a week-long activity challenge that would encourage faculty to eat well. Shortt felt as though she had accomplished her mission, and Walker’s help had been instrumental. He had suggested a smoothie bar be set up one day during the week for faculty to encourage them to continue the challenge of eating healthy.
“He even paid for all the materials himself,” Shortt added.
As the challenge came to an end, Shortt wanted to give one last gift to the faculty of the wellness department for their participation. Her original idea was to surprise them with a bag of healthy snacks, but the combined effort of gathering the materials and passing them out in time seemed impossible.
When she talked to Walker about her idea, he assured Shortt that it could be accomplished. He told her he would put his students, CZ, to work and the snacks would be provided the next day. Shortt was skeptical, but entrusted Walker with the task and went home that night curious about his plans.
“The next morning, we opened our office doors and snack bags were sitting there!” Shortt said. “Walker and his students had come after we had all left that night and left bags of apples, carrots, granola bars and a couple of other snacks in each and every office.”
Shortt continued to seek Walker’s advice for as long as she remained at the university.
“Any time I needed a good idea he would always have one. Or if I already had an idea, he would help me tweak it and make it better,” Shortt said. “To look at him you could say ‘Oh, he is a nice guy,’ but I had no idea of the genius of the man until I sat down with him.”
Walker continued to contribute to Shortt’s department by attending and speaking at the health seminars for faculty, staff and families.
Many departments on campus have been touched by Walker’s gift for planning events and connecting people. His creativity and ingenuity led to many programs that are still around today or are fondly remembered by campus faculty and staff.
Another attribute of his that Walker regularly demonstrated to his fellow faculty and staff was his generosity and thoughtfulness.
The man of exceptional kindness
Roscoe Smith, a 1982 graduate, started working at the university right after graduation as the associate director of Admissions. Four years later he was diagnosed with leukemia. Smith was immediately admitted to the hospital after his diagnosis and began heavy chemotherapy.
Smith had known Walker when he was a student, having been a part of CZ and worked closely with him, but was still surprised to see him in his hospital room one day. Walker found out about Smith’s diagnosis and visited to encourage him, bringing with him a simple gift. He gave Smith a couple of Cedarville College baseball caps to put on when his hair eventually fell out due to the chemo.
“It was a small thing but it meant a lot to me,” Smith, currently the director of Gift Planning at Cedarville, said in an email. “I still have those caps.”
These acts of kindness were one of Walker’s trademarks during and after his employment at Cedarville.
“Dick has always had a giving spirit, looking for ways to build up and support others,” Matthews said. “He has shown more loving concern for others than anyone I know. And more than that it showed the students he worked with how to bless other people.”
Walker’s acts of kindness were not exclusive to the faculty he knew and worked with. Staff members were also pleasantly surprised from time to time. Beste recalls Walker annually going to the maintenance department with donuts once the school year started.
“Since they work so hard during the summer months to get the campus ready for the coming school year, he would try to visit them once the school year started to thank them,” Beste smiled. “He would find ways to just let people know that they were appreciated by someone on campus, and he still does that even though he is no longer here.”
The man who sought out connections
Walker spent the last 18 months of his time on campus working under Beste in Alumni Relations.
“When I began working as the director of alumni, the first thing I wanted to do was to pull Walker into my department,” Beste said. “That didn’t happen for several years, and even then it wasn’t me that brought him to work there. For those 18 months, he was out spending time with alumni and interacting with them. He went to all of our alumni events, and he was amazing at keeping connections alive with our alums.”
He spent months on the road, visiting alumni to build on old and make new, lasting connections. Walker looks back on it as the best spent months of his life.
The man that left behind a legacy
Walker retired in 2012, and the result of his 42 years at Cedarville University was a community full of gratitude and memories. His efforts to create opportunities for other people to connect reflected his love for the people around him and taught many of his students lessons that impacted the rest of their lives.
“One of our slogans here at Campus Experience is something Walker used to say when I worked for him as a student,” said Brian Burns, the director of Campus Experience who worked under Walker as a student. “Bravo Zulu, it is a Navy saying that means ‘well done.’ He used it when he was director of Campus Activities and now we use it as a reminder to always do our best at whatever we are working on.”
Cedarville University has given back to Walker for his service on campus several times: May 4 was known as “Walker Day” starting in 1992, Walker Hall was named after him in 2018 and several Cedarville podcasts and stories have been written recognizing his achievements and contributions to campus life. But according to Burns, Walker never loved the spotlight.
“He was happy being behind the scenes of everything, never seeking personal gain from any of the things he did while he worked here,” Burns said.
When Walker retired his attention shifted from loving others on campus to serving his community and spending time with family. He began a small free monthly publication that can be found in Beans and Cream and other businesses in town. Intersection 42&72 covers pertinent information on town developments and history as well as promotes the local businesses.
Though his physical presence is no longer felt on campus, Walker’s fingerprints remain at Cedarville University in the form of beloved events and employees that were positively impacted.
“Dick Walker is the type of person that Cedarville is known for,” Matthews said. “He’s Godly, loves people and is connected to campus.”
Avonlea Brown is a sophomore journalism student and Campus News editor at Cedars. She enjoys traveling, trying new things and reading.