A noted advocate for Northwest suburban youth and the namesake of the Ray Walker Head Start Center, which serves 118 low-income children in Schaumburg Township, has died.
Walker was an Arlington Heights resident and 23-year board member of the Community Economic Development Association (CEDA) Northwest Self-Help Center in Mount Prospect, which operates the Head Start center.
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He passed away Oct. 19 at the age of 89.
"Ray always had a passion to help others," says Ron Jordan, CEDA director. "He was particularly concerned with helping children build their self-esteem and grow to eventually become successful adults."
His concern was evident in his many volunteer activities, following a successful career with International Harvester.
Walker served on boards with the United Way of Arlington Heights, Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 and the Central Business District of Arlington Heights.
His commitment to CEDA and its mission to empower families to reach self-sufficiency remained a constant.
CEDA officials first recognized Walker in 2000, when they expanded into education and opened the first Ray Walker Head Start Center in Hanover Park. At the time of its opening, the center drew children from Hanover Park, Bartlett and Streamwood. The agency moved the facility to Schaumburg in 2006 to accommodate more children.
"We're responsible for the seven townships in Northwest Cook County," Walker said in a 2000 interview. "There's a lot of poverty in those areas. People don't realize how great the need is."
Walker never forgot his own family's struggles. He grew up during the Dust Bowl years in Kansas and it wasn't until he found a way to attend Kansas State University that opportunities opened up for him.
"We're proud to dedicate this building in honor of Ray," Jordan said at the second dedication. "He represents the spirit of caring for others in our community."
Walker was preceded in death by his wife, Verna, who passed away in 2010. He is survived by his sons, Brian and Kent (Gail) Walker; and grandchildren Brianna, Jake and Brendan.
A memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, 302 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights.