York daughter carries on father's legacy for veterans
One could almost hear his big black combat boots thudding across the floor.
The spirit of "Mr. Sandy" was everywhere at the recent grand opening of the Veteran's Helping Hand shelter, 412 W. King St.
The shelter was the brainchild and the passion of Sandy Walker, a Vietnam veteran who never quite got to see this dream come to fruition, when the homeless advocacy center was renovated into a 22-bed shelter for veterans.
As veterans and their families, city and county officials, and numerous volunteers crowded into the shelter to celebrate the occasion, the one key figure missing was Walker.
He began working on the shelter in 2011 but died this past March.
Mr. Sandy: Those who knew Walker said he was a selfless and impassioned person who wanted to see veterans, especially in York, given respect and resources to make their lives better.
He always wore mismatched socks, a Vietnam veteran baseball hat and the black combat boots — even in the middle of the summer with shorts, former co-worker Dorothy Miller said.
Speakers teared up when talking about the man in boots, who they said was known for meaning what he said, following through and getting things done.
His closest life companion was his wife of 45 years, Collette Walker.
She said they met before he went into the service and married while he was in the Air Force, before he went to Vietnam.
Collette Walker said though Sandy Walker's love for the veterans was his passion, he didn't talk much about his time in the service, especially Vietnam.
Being a veteran returning from the unpopular war, he faced the hardships and terrible things that many suffered during that time, she said. It was his heartfelt wish that no veteran would go through those same things.
The shelter, which will be run by Walker's daughter, Sandie Walker, will at least ensure temporary housing for veterans who need a place to stay.
According to county officials, there are more than 140 homeless veterans in York County.
Strong-armed: Phil Palandro, director of Veterans Affairs in York County, said his relationship with Sandy Walker started as that of a co-worker before evolving into a deeper, shared passion for improving veterans' lives.
Palandro said the first time he met Walker, the older man ordered him to do something.
"I used to come down here to work, and I felt like he was my dad or something," Palandro said. "He'd tell me to be here at 5 a.m. or whatever. I thought, 'This big dude standing here in my office, telling me what to do.' I thought to myself, 'One of two things is going to happen. Either we are going to have a p—ing match, or I am going to do what he wants me to do.'"
The match never happened, but Palandro found himself being strong-armed into making countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Collette Walker said her husband was devoted to his quest, and that in their 45 years of marriage, there were next to no vacations or "time off," as he worked constantly.
She said her daughter Sandie was "daddy's girl."
And she has some big black boots to fill.