Barbara Jean Walker never seemed to rest.
The former Bakersfield High School PE teacher started working at the school in 1961, stayed for 35 years, and then retired. However, retirement didn’t agree with her. She officiated track meets, taught exercise to 100-person classes and did much more after her retirement in 1996.
“If she said she was going to do something, she was going to do it,” said Ruscel Reader, who worked with Walker at BHS and was her friend.
Walker died on Oct. 1 after a major stroke. She was 83.
The former teacher leaves behind a family of more than 7,000 — all former students, colleagues and loved ones. She never married, but cultivated relationships throughout the community by expressing her love of sports and her kind nature.
“She had a really, really big heart and soul,” said Shirley Wallace, a former student and close friend of Walker.
As a “phenomenal athlete,” her competitive nature shone outside of her own activity in sports — she expected the very best out of her students and was an attentive teacher, friends said.
Walker was among the first Black female teachers hired at BHS at the time, served as a role model for other Black students and brought passion to her job. Every day, she fought for girls to play the same sports as the boys, said Pat Shiloh, who worked with the teacher for 16 years and considered Walker a mentor.
Men initially opposed having women on the court and “threatened to run them over,” Shiloh reminisced. That discouragement never stopped Walker, and the women PE teachers. At the time, eight women served as PE teachers and received much support from the administration.
Walker developed the girls’ track program at BHS. Her teams were South Yosemite League champions four out of the five years she coached. In 1979, Walker was chosen as the girls’ high school track and field coach of the year by the California Coaches Association. She was a finalist for the National Coach of the Year.
But family was equally important to Walker — she traveled to Spokane, Wash., to visit her family every summer and maintained a house there. Originally from Mississippi and born in 1983, Walker’s family moved to Spokane where she attended elementary school to college.
Reader remembers how Walker remembered to visit her and send Christmas cards. Those simple gestures speak to the kindness Walker embodied throughout her life, and how much she cared for her students.
“She made a difference in (students) lives because of that,” Reader said.
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.
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