Walker family's tale begins with love at first sight

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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Some tales make for a good Christmas narrative. The commemorative plaque on Main Street for Bill and Tudie Walker leads easily to such a tale. William Walker – born in Boise, Idaho in 1920 – came to California during the Depression to live with two aunts and in order to attend high school. His “living space” consisted of a tent on the roof of their home in Berkeley. Walker went on to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study electrical engineering, but the big interruption called World War II happened instead. In the middle of his senior year, he was recruited to go to McClellan Air Force Base, where he worked as a civilian mechanic on airplanes for the war effort. While there, he spotted a young courier riding a bike, wearing overalls, delivering packages. He had never laid eyes on her before but said to his buddy that he was going to marry that girl. A true case of “love at first sight,” Gertrude “Tudie” Jean Pearce was the only person Walker ever dated. Pearce was born in 1924, in San Leandro. She attended Placer High in Auburn. Her mother, Elizabeth Pearce, ran one of the first libraries in Colfax in the 1920s. The couple exchanged vows in 1943 at the Methodist church in Auburn. Walker enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific on the USS Anzio. During this time Tudie lived with her sisters and mother in Ophir. After the war, Walker returned to work at McClellan and the young family set up housekeeping in Fair Oaks. Jeannie had been born in 1944 while Walker was at sea. The family grew: Bill was born in 1946, Mike in 1949, and Mary in 1953. The typical middle-American life ensued around PTA, Scouts and camping vacations. However, a grocery store chain bought out their Fair Oaks property in 1959 and the Walker family looked to the foothills to relocate. They found the ideal spot on 21 acres, just north of Colfax. There they erected an 18-by-18 foot surplus army tent and resided, like “pioneers of old,” while building their A-frame house. Walker's ham radio friends got together and arranged delivery of a red out-house as a “tent-warming” gift. The children hauled water from the spring in buckets and they all took baths in a metal basin. Continuing at the air base, Walker commuted to his plane mechanic job throughout his career. Shortly before retirement, in 1972, he headed a crew that worked on F111 jets. Along with raising the children, Tudie worked as the Colfax Elementary School bus driver on the Cape Horn route. Once, a student’s pet deer followed his charge onto the bus in Alpine Meadows and much ado and laughter was involved in its removal. Most of the couple’s community involvement, upon retirement, surrounded the Colfax Methodist Church. Members since 1961, they were involved in the expansion project of the 1970s and volunteered to help with the summer youth camp programs. They also worked with the Head Start and Smokey the Bear programs. Tudie spent many hours helping teach ceramics at a center for the visually impaired in Auburn. In 1972, daughter Jeannie's daughter, Krista, was attending nursery school. At Christmas time, they needed a Santa Claus for the party, and Jeannie convinced her father to the task, starting a decades-long tradition. Besides many annual school events, the Santa Claus ritual expanded to Christmas Eve visits to friends’ houses and even senior community homes. Tudie was the Mrs. Claus that assured the suit and all the accoutrements were perfect for the mission. Stephanie Berg grew up in Colfax. When recently asked if she remembered the Walkers, she got a huge grin on her face and said, laughingly at the memory, “Because of them … church camp and Christmas – I always had a great time!” Tudie Walker passed away in 1995 and Bill Walker in 1998. According to daughters Jeannie Claxton and Mary Walker – both of Colfax – their legacy included being “environmentally sensitive. They were ‘green’ ahead of their time as they used solar energy and drove a propane powered truck,” the women said.