up in north Salina in a family that moved frequently depending on
whether they had rent money -- and even lived in a dugout behind a
relative's house -- Walker went on to drop out of school after ninth
Yet through hard work and attention to detail, he went on
to build a business that employed thousands nationwide -- and to give
millions of dollars back to his community.
Walker died Friday
evening of an apparent heart attack. Funeral services are scheduled for 2
p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church, 303 S. Eighth.
People who knew Walker describe a man who was hard-working, generous, committed to excellence and loved animals.
1999 profile of Walker in the Salina Journal opens with him slamming on
the brakes to avoid a squirrel in the road, and then goes on to
describe how he regularly invited schools to visit his 12,000-acre ranch
west of Salina to see his collection of 135 Belgian horses.
Then he added some zebras, a lion he'd purchased from an abusive owner, and other animals he thought kids would like to see.
As that 1999 profile put it, "Walker, being Walker, decided if he was going to have these animals, he would do it right."
Committed to excellence
believed the path to success in business is a commitment to
excellence," said Dennis Lauver, president and CEO of the Salina Area
Chamber of Commerce.
Lauver said Saturday he recalls one
conversation about how Walker insisted on the employees at his Blue
Beacon and Green Lantern car washes know the best way to wash a vehicle.
remember him explaining to me how they did the car washing at Green
Lantern," Lauver said. "They sent people to the best car washes in the
country, and came back with a specific technique for cleaning a window, a
specific technique for vacuuming a floor."
In 2005, Walker was inducted into the chamber's Salina Business Hall of Fame.
Candy and tobacco
his early years, Walker worked a number of jobs, including at a steel
mill in Colorado, and serving in the Air Force during the Korean War
before returning to Salina, where he started Charlie's Wholesale,
delivering candy and tobacco to gas stations, taverns and restaurants in
In 1963, he started a company that cleaned heating and
air-conditioning systems, and in 1967, a truck-mounted portable washing
When he saw how many of his washing systems were used to
clean trucks, he started the Blue Beacon truck stops in 1973, which grew
to more than 100 locations nationwide.
"He had a great attention
to detail," said Jim Maes, a Salina developer who was vice president of
real estate and construction for Walker for 20 years. "If you've ever
been to the facilities he operated, Green Lantern and Blue Beacon, they
were extremely clean, very well-maintained, and friendly."
Kids and animals
Compagnone, superintendent of schools for the Salina Catholic Diocese,
said among his first memories of Walker was his passion for children and
"One of his passions was showing off his animals,
showing the kids," Compagnone said. "This was long before the zoo. Even
then, when it was humbler, he was proud of being able to share that."
zoo, now known as Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, was done with that
"do it right" philosophy, attracting the legendary primatologist Jane
Goodall in 2005, when she spoke to several groups in Salina, including
700 middle school students from across Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
He valued education
he quit school in the ninth grade, Walker throughout his life believed
education was important, and showed it through his philanthropy.
"He was very instrumental in starting the Sacred Heart endowment fund in the early '80s'," Compagnone said.
Walker also contributed to the school's new computer labs, and a bus barn and shop, Compagnone said.
children attended the Diocese schools, and "He always kept in touch
with what was going on at the school," Compagnone said. "I'd see him at a
lot of different events."
A very giving man
Just weeks ago,
Compagnone said, Walker donated $50,000 to the school in memory of his
friend and long-time supporter of the schools, Carl Strecker.
donations in recent months include $25,000 to the Salina Military
Affairs Council, and $5,000 to the Coronado Area Council of the Boy
Scouts of America, which recognized Walker in February with its first
annual "Good Scout Award."
In accepting the award, Walker spoke all of 20 words, and presented the check, surprising Coronado Council CEO Don Sheppard.
"But that's the kind of person Charlie is," Sheppard said at the time. "He's a humble guy."
was reluctant to talk about his donations in detail, but did say for
that 1999 profile that he regularly donates about 30 percent of his
Besides schools and the Rolling Hills Zoo, other visible
beneficiaries were the Tammy Walker Cancer Center, which opened in 2005
and was named for a daughter who died of lung cancer at 11 -- and The
City, teen center in downtown Salina that opened in 2001.
Humble, hard worker
as a multi-millionaire, Walker held onto the spirit of hard work that
had built his fortune, and never let his wealth turn him into someone
"I was always impressed with how down to earth he was," said
Randy Duncan, a Saline County Commissioner who lives near Brookville.
"You'd see him out in the community, and he was just one of the guys.
He'd be eating a Bayard's or wherever -- you felt comfortable
approaching him, or he'd just come up to you."
"He did a lot of
his own work," Maes said. "He really enjoyed the farm, the horses, the
cattle, putting up hay. He enjoyed the work."
"He could have hired
people to get things done," Duncan said. "But if you'd drive by, you'd
often see him out there cutting hay, or swathing hay -- that always made
an impression on me."
-- Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by email at