Phillip Walker, a Salem tree fruit and nut grower who held leadership positions in the agricultural industry for many years, died of cancer April 6. He was 64.
Walker served on the Oregon Hazelnut Commission from 1991 to 1997 and from 2003 to 2009, including serving as chairman for three years and treasurer for three years. From 1987 to 1991, Walker was a member of the Nut Grower Society Board, serving as president of the society in 1991. He received the Nut Grower of the Year award in 1997.
Walker served as a Polk County Commissioner in 1998 and from 2003 to 2005. He served a stint on the Polk County Budget Committee, on the Polk County Citizens Advisory Committee for Corrections Facilities and on the West Salem Little League Board of Directors.
For nearly 30 years, Walker served on the board of Oregon State University’s Agricultural Research Foundation, from 1991 until his death, including serving as president of the foundation from 2009 until his death.
“Phil was a great leader,” said Ralph Fisher, who is taking over as president of the foundation and who worked with Walker throughout Walker’s tenure as foundation president. “He was one of those guys that when he spoke, you listened, just because of his depth of knowledge on topics and his organizational understanding.
“His passing is a great loss for agriculture and the community of Salem and the state of Oregon,” Fisher said.
“Phil was frank and fair and an inspiration to his peers, and certainly to me,” said Polly Owen, director of the Hazelnut Industry Office, who worked with Walker for more than two decades. “He was a master at ensuring that all points of view were clear before decisions were made regarding the industry.
“I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had through the years to work side-by-side and for Phil,” Owen said. “The hazelnut community has lost an important voice and a very special friend.”
Walker grew up working the family’s orchards west of Salem and returned to the farm after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1975. He took over management of Walkdale Farms from his father, Gordon, in the mid-1980s.
Orchardist Doug Olsen pointed out that Walker also was “very involved in the cherry industry, being one of the valley’s largest growers.”
“Most of all,” Olsen said, “he was a great friend and will greatly be missed.”
Walker’s family’s legacy in Oregon agriculture dates back six generations to when his ancestor Michael Henry Walker traveled the Oregon Trail from Iowa in a covered wagon and started farming near Independence in the mid-1800s.
Walker is survived by his wife of 38 years, Rebecca; his sons Marcus, William and Joseph; his stepmother Nancy Walker; his sisters Rachel Walker, Karen Walker and Susan Glaze; and his grandchildren Payten Walker and Rocco Walker.
A memorial service for Walker will be held at Zenith Vineyard, 5657 Zena Road N.W., Salem, on May 4 at 2 p.m., with a reception to follow.
The family is asking that donations in Phil’s memory be made to the Agricultural Research Foundation at OSU, 1600 S.W. Western Blvd., Suite 320, Corvallis, Ore. 97333, or to the Boys and Girls Club of Salem, 1395 Summer St. N.E., Salem 97301.