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4-H leader is driving force behind community service
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Newton’s business and civic leaders have always expected a visit from Johnnie Mae Walker on behalf of the annual 4-H bike-a-thon for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, but they grew worried when other people appeared in her place.
Walker and her 4-H club have been the driving force behind the bike-a-thon for 30 years and have raised more than $60,000 during that time. But health concerns over the past year have slowed the 87-year-old philanthropist down and caused her to cut back on physical activity. She rethought her strategy, deciding she could contact people by phone and have her representatives pick up the pledge cards and donations.
“I like working with people, and I don’t mind asking for help,” Walker said. “It was second nature to think of a way to stay involved and keep things running for the bike-a-thon.”
A spry woman who leads by example, Walker simply made an adjustment. She did not realize how much other people would miss seeing her.
“Mrs. Walker has been the traditional person to pick up the pledge cards and the money for the bike-a-thon because she is the driving force behind it,” said Newton County 4-H agent Katrina McCalphia. “I had to let contributors know that I was acting on behalf of Johnnie Mae Walker because they expected her to knock on their door to collect.”
Walker is the organizational leader of a 4-H club in Newton County and she has done much the same for her Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers group. She has brought the two clubs together to assist other organizations, such as the Salvation Army, on community service projects.
The desire to serve others makes Walker an exemplary leader, said Harvey Gordon, 4-H youth development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Gordon, who coordinates adult volunteer leader activities for the state 4-H program, said Walker’s sharp mind and attention to detail highlight this point.
“As an example, Mrs. Walker can tell you that the difference in the ages of her two sons, Edward and Walter, is 11 years, one month and three days,” Gordon said. “Her mind is that sharp.”
Although many civic organizations and charitable causes draw her attention, 4-H remains closest to Walker’s heart. She has led a 4-H club in Newton County for more than 50 years and encouraged her sons to participate.
“Mrs. Walker is still making an impact on the hearts and minds of youth by being the organizational leader of her 4-H club,” Gordon said. “She tells me that she has every intention ofleading her club as long as she can.”
Walter Walker said his mother’s dedication to 4-H influenced him to remain involved long after his club days were over. In 1982, he accepted a job as Jackson County’s 4-H youth agent and later became Extension county director there. He retired and moved back to Newton in 2006 to take care of his mother after his father died.
“I grew up in a 4-H family,” Walter Walker said. “I was never the big winner in 4-H competition, but in the end, that worked out better for me because I enjoyed the experience of having family support as I achieved my goals.”
Many 4-H youth who Walker mentored now have professional careers and families of their own. Walker has guided their children and grandchildren through 4-H, too.
“The 4-H program brings out the character and personality of each child who is a member,” she said. “I have seen many children blossom because they become inspired by what they learn and take responsibility for what they do.”
This philosophy has won Walker many admirers in her community and throughout the 4-H and homemaker volunteer programs.
“Everyone loves Johnnie Mae Walker,” McCalphia said. “I wish I had more 4-H volunteers like her who are loyal, dependable and visible in the community as she has always been.”