Max Walker, the big-hearted founder of Walker Manufacturing with a strong handshake and a passion for mowing, died early Monday morning. He was 88.
Walker’s friends and family described him as genuine and down-to-earth, a man whose life revolved around his faith, his family and his company. A man who found simple pleasure being outside in the sun on a lawn-mower.
Longtime friend Vicki Duerre of Loveland recalled Walker’s sharp memory for scripture and details.
“He remembered things about you and your family and was always concerned,” she said. “He was a people person … a man of faith who left a legacy for his family that will go on for generations because of who he was.”
Ken Weaver worked with Walker for many years as the company’s director of human resources.
“The simple, decent way Max lived life had an impact on everyone fortunate enough to know him,” Weaver said.
Walker never strayed far from the company he founded and loved. When phase 1 of the plant at 5925 E. Harmony Road was being built in 1990, Walker insisted it include an apartment for himself and his wife, Margaret, Weaver said.
“It was quite large and so well insulated that even when we were in full production, it was as quiet as can be,” he said.
Walker was a constant presence often seen out mowing the grounds.
“One of his passions was mowing,” Weaver said. “He loved to get out on a piece of equipment in the sunshine.”
Raised on a farm in Kansas, Walker started his own company in 1960 by manufacturing the first gasoline-powered golf car.
He sold the company and started making small trucks that could be used at airports and resorts and in factories.
The company moved to Casper, Wyo., due to financial limitations and a lack of local industrial suppliers and later was sold to several investors, according to Walker company history.
Walker stayed on as an employee, but the company was not well managed and closed after several years. Max was unemployed and broke.
He got a job welding steel building frames and was approached by Byco of Greeley to develop an agricultural tractor cab cooler. After designing the cooler, he sold the plans and patent rights to Byco, which hired Walker to manufacture them. At Byco’s urging, Walker moved the company to Fort Collins in 1974.
In 1977, it created what later became its flagship product – the bright yellow, top-of-the-line lawn mower – and by 1984, Walker was solely a lawn-mower manufacturer.
Today, Walker Manufac-turing employs about 155 and does business around the globe.
In 1991, Walker was honored as entrepreneur of the year by the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. And in 2008, the company celebrated its 100,000th mower with a huge company bash and Walker driving the 100,000th mower out of the plant.
“Max used to say we had two types of employees: ‘good and gooder,’ ” Weaver said. “He was honestly one of the most down-to-earth, kind gentlemen you’d ever hope to meet. There wasn’t an unkind bone in his body.”
Duerre said she will re-member his gripping hand-shake. “You knew you had a handshake from Max when you shook hands with him every Sunday,” she said. “Even though he had been ill for a long time and we ha-ven’t seen him as much, his spirit is always there.”
Walker Manufacturing, now run by Max’s sons, Bob and Dean, has seen its share of ups and downs in the current economy, tough times Walker had seen be-fore.
“He knew what it was like to lose everything,” Weaver said.
Walker is survived by his wife, Margaret, with whom he celebrated a 68th wedding anniversary on Sept. 11; son Bob and his wife, Barbara; daughter Ruth and her husband, Dave; son Dean and his wife, Suzanne; daughter Nina and her husband, John; 13 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his grandson Daniel Max Walker.