Editor’s note: This feature is part of a weekly focus from The Star meant to highlight and remember the lives of Black Kansas Citians who have died.
Jake, Daddy, PawPaw, Papa Jake, Brother Walker, BOSS and OG were many of the terms of endearment people had for Jake River Walker.
He didn’t have a favorite. He was proud to be called by each and every one of them, his family said.
“I called him Pops,” said Charles Hammond, who has been married 32 years to Walker’s daughter Linda Hammond. “He was actually in my life longer than my own father. My father passed away when I was a 17.”
Walker, a father of five who worked for the city of Kansas City and who found a second career of sorts with his church, died on April 21. He was 87.
He was born Feb. 11, 1935, in Star City, Arkansas, to Tory and Amanda Walker. His family moved to Kansas City when he was 10 years old and he attended school in the Kansas City School District.
As a young adult, Walker spent time in California before returning to Kansas City and working for the city. During his 35-year career with the city, he became known as the person to go to if you wanted the job done.
By the time he retired in 1995, he was a supervisor in the city’s waste management division, his family said.
Walker was a member of the Blue Valley Masonic Lodge which later combined to become the Coles-Finch Lodge No. 186 of the Masonic Order of the Second District. He was a gold card member, signifying over 40 years, and became a freemason of the 32 degree. He also served as a past master and became a patron in the Order of the Eastern Star.
He was a member of Haven of Rest Baptist Church until he joined Jamison Memorial Temple in 2004. It was there where he found his “second career,” family said
He became very active with the church, including serving as a trustee and becoming chairman of the trustee board. His truck seemed to always to have been parked there, family said, and he was willing to do whatever needed to be done including repairs. He was the “go-to” guy for the church.
“He really got into church and it changed his life,” Walker’s daughter Linda Hammond said. “That’s all he wanted to do is to make sure he was serving God.”
Walker married Shirley Walker in May 2004. Family said he was always a very loving, devoted and faithful husband.
Shirley Walker said that if she ever said she wanted something, he was asking the next day when she was going to go get it.
“We haven’t even talked about it,” she said she’d respond.
“Well, you said you wanted it,” he would counter.
Cynthia Ward, said she only knew Walker for the 18 years since he married her mother. During that time, they bought a house and renovated it.
“He was very young at heart,” Ward said. “He liked to go, he liked to do things and he was able to do things.”
Shirley and Jake Walker loved to travel, taking trips to Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin, although Shirley Walker said that she probably liked traveling more than he did.
One of his favorite vacation spots was Arkansas, where he would visit his brothers-in-law on their farm — enjoying the freedom of country life, including checking on the cows on the four wheeler. He even tried raising cattle himself, but that didn’t last long after he figured out all of the expenses it entailed.
He made a point to be at the Walker family reunion that took place every two years in a different state. The last one, held in Texas in 2020, however, was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his family said. At the one before that in Detroit, there were more than 400 family members there.
“He knew probably most everybody — except the younger folks,” Linda Hammond said.
But they knew him because he was one of the elders, Charles Hammond, added.
Walker was a friendly person who liked treating people, including strangers, as a loved one.
“As a father-in-law, I don’t think we ever had a cross word at all,” said Hammond, who recalled how early on they would go out on a two-man boat to go fishing. “As a human, he was a great person.”
Walker loved to fish, though his family said no one knew whether he was really any good or not.
“He tried to be a good fisherman but he wasn’t too great of a fisherman,” Shirley Walker said. “He did finally catch one big one that he was satisfied with.”
He would fish with his friends at the Lake of the Ozarks. And like many fisherman, he liked to tell tales.
“You may not want to believe some of the stories,” Walker said.
His family joked that they didn’t know if he caught the fish or the fish caught him. His pole just happened to be in the water and the fish was on it.
Jake Walker loved the outdoors and the country. It’s where he felt free and relaxed.
He also loved to play the lottery and won a couple of times. When the casinos first opened, he used to go and “win big,” Hammond said. He stopped going so he could spend more time with his wife.
But he didn’t give up on the scratcher tickets, which he played mostly for entertainment.
“His birthday was February 11 and he was telling everybody, ‘Oh just give me some lottery tickets,’” Hammond said. “So when I went to buy some tickets, some of the machines were empty. I think I spent $10 on tickets and gave him the rest for gas.”