BURL LEROY WALTER Jr.
Burl Leroy Walter Jr. wrote the final chapter of his life story in late 2016, after successful careers as an innovative and respected music educator and a talented professional musician. He passed away in paradise, shortly after visiting the USS Arizona in Hawaii, while pursuing a lifelong love of travel. Mr. Walter was born in Lawrence, KS, but spent his growing up years in Shenandoah, IA, where his parents owned a grocery store. He worked for his father at the store and took piano lessons from his mother, which began both an early love for music and an aptitude for organization. In high school, Walter was a percussionist in the Shenandoah High School "Mustang" band. He went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Northwest Missouri State University and took a job in Hopkins, MO, where he taught elementary grade classroom music, on up to high school band and choir classes. In 1956, Walter's teaching was interrupted by a two year stint in the United States Army where he was a member of the 22nd Army Band, stationed in San Francisco, CA. Upon his discharge in 1958, Walter returned to teaching in the midwest, including Macksburg and Schleswig public schools in Iowa. He also earned a Masters degree in Music from the University of South Dakota. Within a few years though, the pleasant memories of living in California beckoned. In 1965, Walter moved his young family to Reedley, CA, and began a full time teaching career in Kings Canyon Unified School District. He was the music department chair and band director at Reedley High School for 35 years, where he is credited with growing the band program to more than 400 students at one point and establishing the marching band as a crowd favorite with its signature kick-step performances. During his tenure at Reedley High School, his students consistently earned high ratings at various music competitions, and many former students followed his lead into successful teaching and performance careers. He taught three generations of music students before retiring in 2000, but his involvement with the music program continued for many more years. The music building on the high school campus is named in his honor. Students remembered him as someone who sought the best in them and then worked to bring it out through their music. Fellow teachers recall him being the first to welcome them when they joined the ranks of Fresno and Madera counties music teachers, and as a supportive colleague through the years. Walter also enjoyed many years as a professional musician, playing in several groups across the western United States. He was a member of the Fort Smith Symphony in Arkansas, Sioux City Symphony in Iowa, Fresno Philharmonic, and the Tulare County Symphony. Just days before his death, Walter performed with the Kings Symphony in Hanford. Outside of these commitments, Walter kept busy with weekend "saloon gigs" with the Glenn Houpt Trio in Sioux City, IA; the Jack Maurice Trio in Visalia, CA; the Mel Ward Trio in Fresno, CA; and his local "Faculty Four" quartet. He was an organizer, musician and director of the annual greater Fresno Tuba Christmas performances, events that he much loved. He also toured with performing groups that took him to many locales in the United States and Europe. Travel and reading remained joys of his life until the end. His avid reading lead to a following of friends and colleagues who coined the term "Burlisms" to describe the wisdom he gleaned and shared. Disruptive students were also recipients of his sound bites of wisdom when they heard "take a lap!" in his gravelly gruff voice, or often, just witnessed a finger pointed in the direction of the track. In his early years, he was lovingly addressed as "Professor Uncle Mr. Burl Leroy Walter, Jr. Sir!", and later, just "The Old Man." Poker was another of Walter's passions and he played regularly with two local groups, occasionally venturing to Reno, NV, and other cities where he enjoyed higher stakes poker. If enough players could be found at home, he was happy to add in the odd game during the month. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Ellen Walter. Walter is survived by his wife, Gaylene Walter; and his son, Burl Walter III. Walter was interred in a private ceremony at the Reedley Cemetery. A concert and celebration honoring his lifelong commitment to music and teaching will be held at Reedley High School Performing Arts Theater, 740 North Ave., Reedley, CA, on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. Remembrances may be made to the Reedley High School Scholarship Fund for the Burl Walter Jr. Music Scholarship.
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