Bigler’s “True Renaissance Man,” Ray S. Walker, Dies at Age 105

Ray S. Walker (Provided photo)

Ray S. Walker, a life-long resident of Bigler, died at his home Friday, June 9, 2017. He was 105 years old.

Born March 13, 1912, he was the second child and oldest son of the three children of Gertrude Elizabeth (Confer) and Chester Arthur Walker.

Mr. Walker will be remembered fondly by his family for his zest for life, spirit of optimism, business acumen, entertaining storytelling, home-spun philosophy, commitment to philanthropy and total devotion to his family.

A true Renaissance man, he loved music, art, gardening, reading, travel and outdoor sports.  As a youth, he was trained as a classical violinist at the Susquehanna College of Music in Clearfield. 

An affinity for music resulted in his being selected as the first drum major of the Clearfield High School Marching Band in 1928. 

However, the crowning accomplishment as a violinist was earning the position of concert maestro of the Penn State Philharmonic Orchestra in 1933.

Following graduation from Penn State in 1935, Mr. Walker returned home to the village of Bigler and founded the Bradford Coal Co. 

In the early years, he operated the company from the dining room of his father’s home. He was handicapped by the fact that Bigler had only two multi-party phone lines available for the entire village. 

However, during his 50 years at the helm of the company, he earned a reputation as an innovator and as a visionary. 

The Bradford Coal Co. was the first to load a unit coal train in motion on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Today, all coal shipped by rail moves in unit trains. 

He also arranged the first blasting of overburden in surface mining and used ammonium nitrate instead of dynamite.  It drastically changed the economics of surface mining. 

He constructed a large centralized coal preparation plant in Bigler. This allowed Bradford Coal to ship high-grade metallurgical coal used in making coking coal to steel mills worldwide. 

At its peak, Bradford Coal employed 700 people. It was one of the largest coal companies in the state.

In March of 1940, he married Louise Saupp of Houtzdale, and for the next 66 years, she was his loyal life partner. Together, they formed an incredible bond based upon love and mutual respect. 

They were truly each other’s best friend and worked together to build a business, raise a family, see the world and create a shared vision for how to make the world better for others. 

Following their marriage, they purchased a home and 10 acres in Bigler.  Over the years, what was once a dumping ground for the local brick factory was transformed into the Walker Gardens. 

The gardens blossomed into a place of activity. Each year, they were open to the public for tours, which helped local charities raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for civic projects and community endeavors.

Together, Mr. and Mrs. Walker also founded a number of civic and youth activities, including Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League Baseball, the Bigler Playground and the Bigler YMCA. 

They also organized The Walker Family Foundation, which funded numerous college scholarships for area youth and supported local charities.

In recognition of his outstanding work for charity, in 2002 he received the Distinguished Citizen of The Commonwealth Award from The Pennsylvania Society.

As part of this zest for life, Mr. Walker loved to travel and experience the unknown.  He believed active travel to be the best form of education.  Along with his travel partner, Louise, he visited more than 50 countries and all the continents, including Antarctica. 

Their preferred method of travel was by train and transcontinental journeys were taken on The Orient Express, The Oriental Express, The Canadian National, the California Zephyr and The Blue Train of South Africa. Then, there was the granddaddy of them all, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which in 1968 took them on a 5,700-mile adventure across Russia. 

In his final adventure, Mr. Walker traveled by Land Rover from Islamabad, Pakistan over the Himalayas and across the Gobi Desert from west to east deep into China. 

His favorite trip, however, was to London in 1953, where he and Louise represented the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England.  During that visit, they had the honor of meeting Winston Churchill.

He loved spending winters in Pennsylvania where he enjoyed outdoor winter activities.  To him, the fun started with the first snowfall.  He was an excellent ice skater and accomplished downhill skier. 

On his 95th birthday, he became the oldest person to downhill ski on the slopes of Holiday Valley at Ellicottville, NY.  He also loved to snowmobile and was in his glory plowing through snowdrifts at 60-plus miles per hour.  He called it invigorating.

However, no matter how long the journey, how great the adventure or how invigorating the ride, his favorite part was returning home to his family to share another round of stories. 

He delighted in family meals together and relished time spent with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Whether it was attending a dance recital, Little League game, hockey match or spelling bee, he rarely missed an activity.

He was a 1931 graduate of Clearfield Area High School and a 1935 graduate of the Pennsylvania State College, which later became the Pennsylvania State University.

Mr. Walker is survived by two sons, Jim and his wife, Carol of Bigler and Alan and his wife, Judy of Clearfield and a daughter, Susan Kriner and her husband, Bill of Clearfield.

Also surviving are 10 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren, Jaimy Buck and her husband, Bill of Woodland and their children, Jeremy and his wife, Heather and Cody; Jimmy Walker and his wife, Sharyn of Liberty, NC; Jason Walker and his wife, Tammy of Bigler and their children, Carlee, Cade, Cayleigh and Carsyn; Jarrett Walker and his wife, Mindy of Rockton and their children, Brandon, Lauren and Ayden; Jabe Walker and his wife, Veronica of Bigler and their children, Raelyn and Nicholas; Jon Walker and his wife, Misty of Bigler and their children, Colten, Payton and Preston;  Derek Walker and his wife, Stephanie of Bigler and their children, Wynston and Broderick; Courtney Spencer and her husband, Andy of Clearfield and their children, Cole, Kardon and Kendell; Barb Siggins and her husband, John of State College and their children, Zachary and his wife, Sandra and Thomas; and Lucas Kriner and his wife, Katie of Barto, Pa.  He is also survived by two great-great-grandchildren, Jensen and Lydia Buck.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Louise, a daughter, Ann Macko of State College, a granddaughter, Joan Caren Walker of Bigler, his parents and two sisters, Betty Skelton of State College and Marjorie Hall of Harrisburg.  He was the last surviving member of his family of his generation. 

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 17 at The First Presbyterian Church, Clearfield.  Burial will be in the Crown Crest Memorial Park, Hyde.

Friends will be received from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 15-16 and from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. Saturday, June 17 at The First Presbyterian Church, Clearfield.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to The Bigler YMCA., 61 Walker Rd., Bigler, PA 16825 or the Bucktail Council, Boy Scouts of America, 209 First Ave., DuBois, PA 15801.

The Kevin A. Beardsley Funeral Home, Clearfield, is in charge of arrangements.

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