Penn State

Penn State’s oldest alumnus, Ray Walker, dies at 105

Ray Walker, center, and Penn State Blue Band Director Gregory Drane talk with cheerleaders after Walker led the alma mater at a February 2016 basketball game.
Ray Walker, center, and Penn State Blue Band Director Gregory Drane talk with cheerleaders after Walker led the alma mater at a February 2016 basketball game. Centre Daily Times, file

Ray Walker loved Penn State.

At 105, the university’s oldest alum passed away at his home on Friday.

“Ray Walker embraced the title of oldest living alumnus and wore it as a badge of honor,” said Penn State Alumni Association Executive Director Paul Clifford. “A distinguished alumnus, generous philanthropist and enthusiastic Nittany Lion, Ray was a visiable and spirited participant in alumni events throughout his life. We are saddened by his passing but know that his spirit lives on in the hearts and minds all Nittany Lions that knew and loved him.”

Walker thought he wanted to be a doctor when he went to Penn State College back in 1930, but it wasn’t long before the Great Depression and an inability to master German pushed him into a new direction. Penn State turned him into a businessman.

“From directing the Blue Band at the age of 104 to attending scholarship recipient events, Ray Walker remained an active partner during the entirety of his life,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “His personal philanthropy extended across the university community from athletics and the arts to the Schreyer Honors College and from the DuBois campus to University Park. Ray ranks among Penn State’s most faithful — and certainly one of the university’s most colorful — graduates, leaving all those who came in contact with him with a smile. Ray Walker was not only our oldest living alumnus but also one of our greatest, and he will be deeply missed.”

In 2016, he sat down with the Centre Daily Times and talked about how he had seen the university change over the years, from “just a cow college” back in his day to one of the largest universities in the country.

“I am heartbroken about Ray Walker’s death. He was one of my dearest friends and one of Penn State’s greatest alumni,” said former university president Graham Spanier. “Some of us thought he would live forever and wanted him to. He will be greatly missed. He loved everybody and everybody loved him.”

Walker grew a college business of delivering coal to fraternity houses into Bradford Coal, a Clearfield County company that did business all over the world. His son, C. Alan Walker, became the Pennsylvania secretary of community and economic development.

That was fitting. If you asked Ray Walker what was important to him, he would tell you family and community. He considered Penn State both.

Walker built his company from nothing, a way to stay at Penn State when his father lost his money in a bank crash and he wanted to continue his education. He built his house the same way, taking it from a scrubby area in Bigler and turning it into Walker Gardens, the beautiful estate he shared with his late wife Louise. He collected sculptures, planted too many flowers to count and opened his doors to the public to raise money for nonprofits such as the Boy Scouts and the YMCA.

Walker’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. June 17 at First Presbyterian Church in Clearfield. Visitors will be received at the church from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10-11 a.m. June 17.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce