Walker ’71: “The True Essence of Amateur Athletics”

Steve Walker ’71 and Stephen M. Walker II ’04 hold a photo of the 1927–28 rat basketball team.

Steve Walker ’71 (left) and Stephen M. Walker II ’04 hold a photo of the 1927–28 rat basketball team. The elder Walker’s father, Stephen M. Walker, Class of 1931, is pictured in the photo, along with Lt. Gen. George R.E. Shell, Class of 1931, who would go on to become a brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps and VMI’s ninth superintendent.—Photo by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

The threads of a VMI tapestry wind their way through the life of Steve Walker ’71—threads of generational attendance, friendship, and gratitude for all the Institute has given the Walker family.

The family’s story begins with Walker’s father, Stephen M. Walker, Class of 1931, who matriculated from Gassaway, West Virginia, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. He also played on the rat basketball team, and one of his teammates, Lt. Gen. George R.E. Shell, Class of 1931, would go on to a military career of great renown, culminating as a brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps and later serving as the Institute’s ninth superintendent.

When the younger Walker matriculated to VMI in 1967, Shell was superintendent. Like his father and Shell, Walker played rat basketball. Walker’s son, Stephen M. Walker II ’04, also attended VMI, extending the legacy of lifelong ties to the institution and earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and business. In appreciation for all the Institute has done for his family, both in terms of academics and athletics, Walker recently established the Walker Family Athletic Scholarship.

“I appreciate the concept of the three-legged stool,” said Walker, who attended VMI for two years and went on to earn degrees from West Virginia University. For the past 50 years, he’s been a resident of Morgantown, West Virginia, where he operates his real estate firm, J.S. Walker Realtors, and employs 30 agents.

Life and real estate have both kept Walker busy. Still, over the course of the past several decades, he’s stayed in touch with his brother rats—among them Buddy Bryan ’71, Tim Golden ’71, and the late David Allen ’71, as both Walker and Allen matriculated from West Virginia. Like Walker, Allen was the son of an alumnus, James “Jimmy” Allen, Class of 1933.

As the date for his 50th Reunion approached in spring 2022, Walker not only made plans to attend, at the urging of his brother rats, but he also began to ponder how to best contribute to the Class of 1971’s 50th Reunion Campaign.

A black-and-white photograph that once belonged to his father provided inspiration: In it, the members of the 1927–28 rat basketball team are pictured in front of Cocke Hall, with Walker’s father in the middle of the front row and Shell on the end of the front row on the right side.

The former superintendent, whom Walker described as “a great gentleman and a great soldier,” was the bridge between his father’s cadetship and his own, Walker realized. “That sort of crystallized my decision to do something with respect to an athletic scholarship,” he commented.

“I wanted to do something to support athletes who have the initiative to attend VMI and reap the benefits of a VMI education,” he continued. “I’ve always viewed intercollegiate athletics at VMI as the true essence of amateur athletics. With the transfer portal and NIL taking precedence in major college sports across the country, I appreciate VMI for adhering to the traditional model of the student-athlete, which also, by the way, makes it very enjoyable to watch.”

With enjoyment and appreciation for all sports and a background of more than 25 years as a referee for high school and collegiate soccer matches, Walker chose to create a scholarship that could support an athlete on any of VMI’s 18 NCAA teams.

“Major universities, public institutions, are driven by interests that are different [from] VMI,” said Walker. “In inculcating the three-legged stool philosophy, VMI prepares its graduates for success. I’m just pleased to be in a position where I can give back to VMI.”

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.