Herbert G. Walker, age 87, passed away on July 18, 2020, leaving a void in his family and in the Bakersfield community. Herb worked hard, relished life, and loomed large in the lives of those who loved him. Herb was an icon in Bakersfield and memorializing his life reflects on the evolution and virtues of his town.
Like many in Bakersfield, Herb’s extended family roots lie outside. He was born during the Great Depression years, on August 12, 1932, to Herbert Porter Walker and Minnie Laster Walker in Bragg City, Missouri. He moved from Missouri to Bakersfield with his family at the tender age of five or six in a Ford Model T loaded up and strapped down with all of the family belongings, topping out at 40 mph. Bakersfield became his life-long home where he always returned after short departures as a young man.
Herb started his education at Beardsley Elementary School and then Mt. Vernon Elementary, after his family moved into the city. He attended Washington Jr. High and Bakersfield High School. During high school, he competed in swimming, which introduced him to sports, competition, and team events – activities that gave him great satisfaction for the rest of his life. He worked during high school, making deliveries for various downtown merchants and enjoyed the typical social life of a teen back then in drive-in movie theatres and swimming pools. Herb joined the Navy Reserve during his senior year in high school and following graduation, he was stationed with the Navy in San Diego before being transferred to the Hawaiian Islands.
Following his Naval service, Herb returned to Bakersfield and attended Bakersfield College where Bakersfield High School is now located. During college, he competed on the swim team and played football. He also worked during college for oil companies and as a lifeguard at local pools. A few years into college, Herb ventured north to Alaska to work on an oil rig in the Elusion Islands. The tug of Bakersfield, however, lured Herb back to the community where he attended Fresno State for a short time before being hired at Bakersfield Country Club to manage the pro shop for Kern County golfing legend, Babe Lazane. During this time, Herb met Doris Banducci on a blind date at Mexicali Restaurant in 1960 and eventually convinced her to marry him in 1965. From this union came two daughters who were the highlight of his life: Nancy Walker and Tracy Kiser. The family unit actively intersected with family businesses, friends and loved ones, and active community involvement, keeping Herb and the family constantly on the go. Herb was a constant and enthusiastic supporter of his daughters, from Tracy’s community and philanthropic work to Nancy’s academic endeavors.
Herb made his mark in Bakersfield in men’s clothing by working as a manager for Seiler’s Men Store and then in 1971 by opening Herb Walker’s Clothing on 18th Street and a second store, Walker Abbott, with Bob Abbott, in 1980, in Stockdale Fashion Plaza. Herb was known to have an eye for detail and style. Many a man in Bakersfield has a story about being suited up by Herb Walker for an important event or the first big job. Herb continued to dress up the community by working in the store until his retirement in 1998, when Tracy Kiser purchased the store, which she continues to operate today in the tradition of quality and service established by Herb.
In addition to a passion for his chosen vocation, Herb showed a zest for life in other venues. He was an avid golfer and engaged with his golf group, enjoying lively rounds of golf at both Bakersfield Country Club and Stockdale Country Club. Herb was an active member and past president (1988-89) of Stockdale Country Club and served on various committees and the board for several years. Herb also cultivated an interest in architecture and landscape design and was instrumental in the design of the outdoor patio at Stockdale Country Club and the beautification of downtown Bakersfield. His community involvement extended to active involvement in the Fox Theatre Restoration, the Downtown Business Association, and the inaugural Garces Gala. Herb’s service and love for Bakersfield culminated in his being honored in 2008 as the East Side Sons of St. Patrick Leprechaun of the Year and in 2009 the National Herb Walker Day by the City of Bakersfield.
In January 2016, Herb’s beloved spouse Doris Walker passed away after spending a remarkable 50 years in marriage and partnership with Herb in operating the clothing stores, managing the family properties, raising daughters, socializing, and sharing a passion for design and travel. Although the passing of Doris was a blow to the Walker family, the indomitable Herb Walker was fortunate eventually to reconnect with high school friend Janice Redman Best at Leck Franks, which was affectionately known as the Green’s party house, a place to congregate for afternoon cocktails. As a loving companion, Jan fully welcomed Herb into her home and family as though it were his own. Herb and Jan were a compatible pair and enjoyed traveling, playing golf, reading, doing puzzles, and visiting family and friends. Throughout his life and even more so near the end of his time, Herb expressed gratitude for the blessings of family and remained actively involved in the lives of his daughters, their families, and the families of Jan Best, especially Greg, Maryann, and Lauren McBee of Bakersfield. He also continued to the end of his life to take great interest in the landmarks and growth and development of Bakersfield, serving as an informative and lively tour guide whenever he had a guest in the car with him.
Herb is survived by his daughter Nancy Walker and son-in-law Michael Roberts of Pasadena, his daughter Tracy Kiser and son-in-law Brian Kiser of Bakersfield. The family will honor Herb with a private service at National Cemetery. Due to the concerns and restrictions of Covid-19, a celebration of life will be held at Stockdale Country Club on December 13, 2020. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Bakersfield College Athletics and Bakersfield High School Swim Team.