Community Mourns Loss of Grapeland’s Delbert Walker

By Cody Thompson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – Citizens of Houston County, particularly in Grapeland, are in mourning after the passing of local business owner and philanthropist Delbert Walker at the age of 79 on Monday, April 24.

Walker was born on Jan. 16, 1938 in Delhi, Louisiana. He worked on his family’s farm until moving to Baytown at age 17.

Shortly after his move to Baytown, Walker met the woman who would become his wife, JoAnn Wright. The two were married on March 28, 1958.

“(Delbert and JoAnna) were a match made in heaven, they had a very big ‘ying and yang’ thing,” friend and current employee Kim Kelley told the Messenger on Friday. “There have never been two people who have deserved each other more than those two.”

Walker worked as a fireman in La Porte while attending barber school. After graduating, Walker moved to Seabrook and opened his own barber shop where he became the barber of many of the early astronauts, including John Glenn. This was the first of many successful business endeavors that Walker would embark on throughout his life.

“Mr. Walker had a very strong personality and he knew how to get things done,” friend and former employee Gary Taylor told the Messenger on Wednesday. 

Walker worked as a barber for 12 years and, during this time, started Walker’s Dump Trucks and Walker Sand, which he operated out of his barber shop. More often than not, if a customer came in for a hair cut, they left with a load of sand as well.

Eventually, Walker sold the barber shop and devoted his time to running the trucking and sand companies full-time.

After years of successful business for his two companies, Walker and his wife were able to purchase the first part of their ranch in Grapeland.

After settling in Grapeland, Walker began expanding the D-J (Delbert – JoAnn) Ranch and started raising cattle. Walker would call the ranch home for the remainder of his days.

Long-time friend and neighbor Paul Oliver purchased and moved to the property adjoining Walker’s ranch in 1996.

“When I first moved to Grapeland and bought the property next to (Walker’s), people told me, ‘You’ll never be able to get along with him,’” Oliver told the Messenger on Tuesday. “We never had a cross word. We didn’t always agree, but we would always talk it out and we never got mad at each other.” 

Oliver, like Walker, also raises cattle and the two men enjoyed helping each other maintain their respective herds, Oliver said.

“We shared a property line between our ranches, and sometimes some of my cows would get over in his property, and his would get over in mine,” Oliver said. “It was never a problem. We would just pen them and bring them back to where they belonged.”

Walker served in many civic roles throughout his life, including but not limited to: charter member and fire chief in Lomax, life member with the Houston County Livestock Show and Rodeo for 37 years, La Porte City Council member and charter member and president of the La Porte Livestock Show and Rodeo.

After moving to Grapeland, Walker expanded his track record of public service by serving as a member of the Lion’s Club and Grapeland Chamber of Commerce. Walker was honored by the chamber as the Citizen of the Year in 2014.

“(Walker) had a high resolve to make everything he was involved in better, especially Grapeland and Houston County,” Taylor said. “He was a good friend and he always had the community in mind.”

Taylor met Walker in 2006 and was employed at Grapeland Farm and Ranch, a feed and farm supply store owned by Walker, for six years.

“I came to know Mr. Walker in 2006 and, over the years, we became close friends,” Taylor said. “Most people knew that (Walker) had a strong personality and strong convictions, but there was a side of him that not everyone got to see. He helped a lot of people on a personal level and not everyone got the chance to see that.”

Walker was a lifelong member of the Church of Christ and attended the South Loop Church of Christ in Crockett.

Of all of Walker’s accomplishments throughout his life, his most treasured was his family: his wife, JoAnn, his children, Keith and Rita, and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“Delbert was my best friend. I loved his family like they were my own,” Kelley said. “He was a very big part of my life and my heart is broken from missing him.”

Walker was a man who was always dedicated to helping people and the community, Oliver said.

“(Walker) was very interested in the community and he was dedicated to trying to make Grapeland better,” Oliver said. “In some instances, his approach was not as effective as it could have been, but it was not because he did not care, he cared very deeply for people and causes that he felt were right.”

It was a privilege to have known a man with such strong personality and convictions, Taylor said.

“I have been very fortunate to have had Delbert and JoAnn Walker as a part of my life these past few years,” Taylor said. “The community of Grapeland is sorely going to miss him.”

Walker’s funeral was held on at Callaway – Allee Funeral Home in Crockett on Thursday, April 27. Graveside services were held at Grandview Memorial Park in Pasadena on Friday, April 28.

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