An Everyday Hero Joining Jesus on His Mission

Richard Walker with Chelsey Killean, Executive Director of Fieldstone, where Richard volunteers.
Willie Nelson released the song “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” in 1975. It remains to this day a popular favorite of people like me: people who, during the 1950s, looked up to TV cowboy heroes like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy. Willie’s song hasn’t changed, but my list of heroes has. Oh, you can still find Hoppie, Gene, and Roy on TV somewhere, but these days my heroes are always in some way connected to Jesus. You might say that all my heroes have “Joined Jesus on His Mission.” As is usually the case with Jesus, his crew doesn’t include characters like Superman, Batman, or Spidey. For one thing, they aren’t even real, but let me tell you about a new “hero” of mine who is quite real.

Richard Walker was married for 62½ years to Marlene. They raised a family in DeWitt, Iowa, where they enjoyed the congregational life of DeWitt Lutheran Fellowship, which is now called Emmaus Road Church. Pastor Brent Walker (Faith Lutheran Brethren Church in Blue Earth, MN) calls him “Dad.” Active in the church for years, Richard did quite a bit with men’s Bible studies, and both he and Marlene served with the Son Shine Committee. One of the services performed by the Son Shine Committee was to visit residents of the local nursing home. They’d just stop by, say hello, share a Bible verse or two, and pray with whoever invited them into their rooms. Those visits were highlights in the lives of many seniors who had few visitors and always enjoyed a bit of company. Dick and Marlene were there, doing good work, and glad to do it.

One day, Dick’s visitation work became a bit more personal as Marlene became a resident at the nursing home. Dick was at her side every day, until a day in November of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Marlene passed away.

The visits didn’t stop. Almost three years after Marlene’s passing, Dick is now 87 years old and continues to enjoy his visits and knows how important they are to the residents. He goes to the nursing home every day and has organized his schedule to stop in at each of the five “houses” that make up the Fieldstone Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility. “So many spiritually hungry people are there, and so many in need of companionship,” he said.

Others have noticed this quiet visitor to shut-ins and residents. Dick’s granddaughter, Chelsea Killean is the Executive Director of Fieldstone. Proud of her grandfather and his work, she submitted his name for an annual award that WesleyLife grants to outstanding volunteers. WesleyLife is a parent company committed to serving the needs of the aging through their local facilities like Fieldstone in DeWitt where Dick volunteers.

Is this award just a local “I’m proud of my grandpa” kind of nomination? Not hardly! The headline of the WesleyLife article from August 23rd reads, “Statewide Award Honors Fieldstone Volunteer.” While the family originally thought this to be a very nice, local recognition for Dick, others in the company assured them that this really was a big deal. Lots of deserving people had been nominated and Richard Walker had been chosen to receive the award.

Did the award make him a hero? Or, was it simply recognition of someone who had been a hero to many for a long while? I’m sure Dick will take issue with me calling him a hero, but you see, he needs to understand how I define that word.

Once upon a time, my heroes had been cowboys and crime fighters. Today, they are all connected to Jesus and his mission. They are people who serve Jesus through serving others: parents, teachers, counselors, EMTs, rescuers, and adoptive parents are just some that come to mind. There are many qualities I consider when defining a hero. Occasionally, Jesus calls a person to join him on a mission to the lonely, aging, and spiritually needy residents in a hometown nursing home. Dick Walker is one of those people. It turns out, he’s been joining Jesus on his mission all along. He even got an award for it.

Afterword: I asked Dick what kind of Bible studies and devotions he leads. He told me he simply picks a verse or two and invites people to talk about it with him. So, what’s he got on the schedule for this week? He said, “Oh, I’m going to have us take a look at the parable of the vine and the branches.” Talk about joining Jesus!
Rev. Bruce Stumbo serves Associate of North American Mission of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.

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