Gene S. Walker, Sr.
| Gene Simeon Walker, Sr.|
(Texas rancher, landowner,
|Born|| March 15, 1926 |
Laredo, Texas, USA
|Died|| January 19, 2015 (aged 88)} |
Vaquillas Ranch at Aguilares
in Webb County, Texas
|Spouse|| (1) Mary Katherine Haynes Walker (married 47 years; deceased)
(2) Susan Baker Walker (surviving widow)
Gene Simeon Walker, Sr. (March 15, 1926 – January 19, 2015), was a rancher, landowner, and businessman from his native Laredo, Texas. The Walkers have operated ranches for more than a century in south and west Texas and in Mexico. The family has also branched into petroleum, natural gas, real estate, banking, and retail concerns.
Walker family patriarch James Oliver "J. O." Walker, Sr. (1888–1967), arrived in South Texas in the early 20th century from Grant Parish in north Louisiana. He had contracted malaria as a young man when he planned to enroll at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. His physician urged him to move to drier country. Walker first came to San Antonio, and in 1910, he followed a brother-in-law to Laredo, motivated by the movement of the railroad into the region. After a series of odd jobs, he became a foreman on a vegetable farm. He managed to purchase a hundred acres of farmland, where he and his wife, the former May Haley (1890–1975), raised their three children, Mary Elizabeth, J. O., Jr. (1915-2001), and Gene, Sr. This land is now called the "Old Nye Farm". With a subsequent loan from the Federal Land Bank, J. O. Walker, Sr. purchased seven thousand acres, which launched the family ranching empire. At the time ranching was paramount to the South Texas economy; it remains important to the history and heritage of the region even with the rise of other businesses and industries. Gene Walker was subsequently a director of the Federal Land Bank.
Gene Walker attended public schools and graduated from Martin High School in Laredo, the Schreiner Institute in Kerrville, Texas, and Texas Tech University in Lubbock, at which he concentrated on agricultural classes.
Walker attributed his success to the realization that business conditions, no matter the field of endeavor, constantly change: "A lot of my contemporaries who didn't change as things dictated they should didn't last very long. You ... have to be flexible and modernize and change." Walker said that land in South Texas had become too expensive for ranching pursuits because of wildlife and oil and gas production. Walker therefore purchased ranches in 1995 in West Texas and in 2000 in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. In 2000, total Walker ranch holdings exceeded 250,000 acres. In the dry lands of South and West Texas, thirty acres are needed to sustain one animal; in a humid region, one acre would be sufficient. The Walkers raise Hereford, Beefmaster, and Black Angus breeds, much of which is sold to Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri.
Walker expanded the practice that his father began in the 1930s: leasing land to hunters, a lucrative venture that often netted more profit than raising the cattle. The senior Walker was one of the first ranchers in South Texas to lease land for hunting. It often allowed the ranch to survive repeated drought. In normal years, this part of South Texas receives eighteen inches of rainfall per year. Walker was always mindful of the need of moisture to sustain life on the ranch. The cattle had to eat prickly pear cactus to survive.
As a young man, Walker often participated in traditional cattle drives to the railheads. "We would leave horseback from headquarters before daylight and carry maybe a piece of dried beef and a piece of cornbread in our pocket, and that was it for the whole day," he recalled. The railroad has been superseded for such purposes by the 18-wheelers. Walker also used a helicopter to gather cattle from the brush. The copter greatly reduces the need for saddle horses. He had his own airplane, piloted by his younger son, by which he could reach in just over two hours the two West Texas ranches in Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Culberson c counties. In 1988 and again in 2003, Walker was named "Rancher of the Year" by separate organizations, Borderfest and the Laredo International Fair and Exposition. "I get huge satisfaction from the work, and the reputation we have in the market," Walker said of his ranch life. In 1999, he was chosen as a Junior Achievement laureate, along with his brother and ranch partner, J. O. Walker, Jr. His sister, Mary Elizabeth "Bess" Walker Quiros (1914–2005) was an art teacher at J. W. Nixon High School in Laredo. Her husband, Walker's brother-in-law, Evan Belisario Quiros (1918–2009), was a decorated World War II lieutenant colonel and an expert marksman. Quiros handled the Walker accounting and oil and gas leasing operations.
In 2002, Gene Walker, an Anglo, was honored by the League of United Latin American Citizens as a "Tejano Achiever." He has also been recognized by Rotary International and the Webb Soil and Water Conservation District. In 2014, some six months before his death, the Laredo Chamber of Commerce honored Walker as the "Laredo Business Person of the Year" in a ceremony at the Laredo Country Club. Local banker Jose O. Zuniga praised Walker for his stewardship of the land and continuing efforts at business expansion: "The contributions of the J. O. Walker family to Laredo during the past 100-year span have been immense and demonstrate their commitment to our city."
For some two decades, Walker was an elected member of the former Mirando City Independent School District, having been the board president for a number of those years. He was a member and former director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, based in Fort Worth. He served on the board of the Camino Columbia Toll Road, a venue that connects Laredo with Mexico.
Walker lived on his 2,000-acre Vaquillas Ranch ("Little Heifers") at Aguilares in eastern Webb County. The offices for Vaquillas Cattle and Huisache Cattle, another Walker concern, are located in Aguilares in a brick building that was once a school house. Walker and his first wife, the former Mary Katherine Haynes, had four children, Gene "Primo" Walker, Jr., and wife, Carllyn, James Patrick "Rick" Walker, Elizabeth Walker, and May Kathleen "Kandy" Walker.
After the death of Mary Katherine, he married the former Susan Baker, the retired director of the Dr. F. M. Canseco School of Nursing at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. From this union, he acquired two step-children, Travis G. Baker and wife, Holly, of Orono, Maine, and Erin B. Albanese and husband, John, of Sammamish in Washington State. He had nine grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.
Walker died at Vaquillas Ranch at the age of eighty-eight from complications resulting from a fall several weeks earlier. After services at the First Baptist Church of Laredo, of which he was a long-term member and deacon. Walker was interred the following day at his ranch. The Walker Plaza in Laredo, a multi-story office complex at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Mann Road is named for the Walker family. Gene Walker Lake, a reservoir near Mirando City is named in his honor. A luxury condominium complex in San Antonio, the Simeon of Olmos Park, is named for Walker through his middle name by its developer, his daughter May Kathleen Walker. On February 4, 2015, state Senator Judith Pappas Zaffirini of Laredo introduced a resolution, SR99, in Walker's memory.
- Well-known rancher Gene S. Walker, Sr., has died. Laredo Morning Times (January 20, 2015). Retrieved on February 4, 2014.
- Gabriela A. Trevino, "Walker family built cattle ranching empire", Laredo Morning Times, August 24, 2014, Walker Supplement, p. 6D.
- Colleen Schreiber (May 29, 2003). Lifelong Rancher Attributes Success to Unity of Family. Livestock Weekly. Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Gene Walker. zoominfo.com. Retrieved on February 6, 2015.
- Elizabeth M. Pease, "Modern Times bring changes to ranching", Laredo Morning Times, August 24, 2014, Walker Supplement, p. 7D, reprint of a November 2000 article.
- Obituary of Gene Simeon Walker Sr., Laredo Morning Times, January 22, 2015, p. 10A.
- In Memoriam: Gene S. Walker Sr.. joejacksonfuneralchapels.com. Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- J. O. Walker, Jr.. Laredo Morning Times (September 11, 2001). Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Mary Elizabeth (Bess) Walker Quiros. Laredo Morning Times (April 19, 2005). Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Lt. Col. Evan Belisario Quiros. The Houston Chronicle (December 17, 2009). Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Gene Simeon Walker Sr., 88, Laredo, Texas. The New Mexico Stockman: Triple A Livestock Report. Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Chamber names Gene S. Walker, Sr., as Business Person of the Year. Laredo Chamber of Commerce (June 22, 2014). Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- "Gene S. Walker Sr.: Business Person of the Year": Countless people impacted by the family's contributions", Laredo Morning Times, August 24, 2014, Walker supplement, p. 2D.
- TAMIU's long-time Nursing Champion Readies for Busy Retirement Phase. Texas A&M International University. Retrieved on February 3, 2015.
- Gene Walker Lake (Webb). Usa.indettaglio.it. Retrieved on April 9, 2019.
- Tricia Lynn Silva (September 20, 2009). Female developer brings upscale condo project to Olmos Park. bizjournals.com. Retrieved on February 6, 2015.
- TX SR 99: In Memory of Gene Simeon Walker Sr.. legiscan.com. Retrieved on February 6, 2015.