'Driving force' recognizedWANAMINGO — Baseball has played a huge role in Larry Van De Walker’s life. The Wanamingo resident played catcher growing up, coached Little League and named his one of his sons Kirby after Minnesota Twins player Kirby Puckett.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
WANAMINGO — Baseball has played a huge role in Larry Van De Walker’s life. The Wanamingo resident played catcher growing up, coached Little League and named his one of his sons Kirby after Minnesota Twins player Kirby Puckett.
So it seems only fitting that Van De Walker was recently recognized by the Goodhue County Editorial Association for his numerous volunteer efforts, including the hours he spent working to revamp the Wanamingo baseball field.
“It’s just amazing to transform that field from what it was to one of the nicest fields in the area,” newly sworn-in Wanamingo Mayor Ryan Holmes said.
“Larry Van De Walker was the driving force behind the baseball field renovation,” said Kenyon Wanamingo head baseball coach Randy Hockinson.
Van De Walker was presented the award in a surprise ceremony at Area 57 Coffee Café in Wanamingo Jan. 16. Sherree Van De Walker, Larry’s wife, told him they were going out to celebrate her birthday, which was the previous Saturday.
“I don’t believe this,” Larry said after walking into the cafe. “I don’t get it.”
“You were a unanimous selection,” said Peter Grimsrud, publisher of the Zumbrota News-Record. “Not only were you unanimous, but everybody said, ‘What a deserving recipient.’”
Over the past 10 years, renovations to the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial Field included new dugouts, new fencing and backstops, new landscaping, adding an automatic irrigation system and a new concession stand. Much of that work was done — at least in part — by Van De Walker.
The softball field will have identical amenities.
“He is a fundraiser, organizer, motivator and substitute burger flipper. No job is too big or too small for Larry,” Hockinson said.
But it’s not just at the ball field where Van De Walker spends his time, energy and fundraising efforts. Two years ago, he volunteered time and money to chaperone a World War II veteran to Washington, D.C., to see the WWII memorial there.
“You have to escort people because a lot of (WWII veterans) have health issues,” his wife said. “There’s an escort for each person.”
Van De Walker also helped raise money to send “numerous” other WWII veterans to Washington to see the memorial, she added.
In addition, he serves on the Wanamingo City Council, is a member of the Wanamingo Lions Club, the Kenyon VFW, Goodhue Area Jaycees, Mazeppa American Legion, Wanamingo Veterans Honor Guard — which he helped create — and about a half-dozen other community organizations.
What’s more, Van De Walker has served in various roles including den leader, scoutmaster and cubmaster for Wanamingo Boy Scouts troops since 1991.
“It’s just amazing the work you’ve done,” Grimsrud told Van De Walker. “You probably don’t even know how much. … Some people are tireless volunteers for their families. You go way beyond that.”
“Up to six years ago, I didn’t even know what you did for pay,” Holmes added.
For the record, Van De Walker works for the Minnesota Department of Human Resources overseeing 29 group homes for adults.
But any free time over the past few years has been spent at the Wanamingo baseball field, his wife said.
“When people come around in the summertime, we say, ‘We know, he’s at the ball field,” she said.
In accepting the award, he credited his parents, John and Eva Van De Walker, for setting a strong example of volunteerism.
“I thank Mother and Dad for the wonderful example they set,” he said. “I don’t think much of it because that’s how I grew up, them working on things all the time.”
It’s an example, it seems, Larry and Sherree Van De Walker have passed down to their now-adult children, Kirby, Jesse and Callie.
“You’ve been a good role model for us,” Kirby told his father. “If we have anything to be thankful for, it’s the way of life that you made for us.”