Born to a pioneer Sebastopol farm family in 1918, Wilma Jean Little Walker walked up the hill to Spring Hill School and after college returned there to launch her career as a teacher beloved by generations of students.
Walker spent most of her career, which spanned more than 35 years, in classrooms of the Sebastopol Union School District. During summer vacations and following her retirement in 1976, she and her late husband, Al Walker, set off on the sorts of international journeys their family and friends would only hope to read about in National Geographic.
Wilma Walker was 94 when she died Sunday at her home, gardens and nature preserve off Vine Hill Road.
"She was so interested in the whole world," said niece Mary Myland Bassior of Sebastopol.
A second niece, Sharon Sly of Portland, Ore., recalled Walker's stories about touring Alaska in a Volkswagen bus and paddling with a native guide into regions of the Amazon River seldom visited by foreigners.
One story recounted how the men of an Amazon village had the women and children run off as the small boat bearing two white people approached. Sly said her aunt told her that she and Al were in their 70s then, and the men of the village examined their wrinkled faces, decided they posed no threat and called the women and children out of hiding.
"They really had a sense of adventure," Sly said.
Walker's grandparents, John and Elizabeth Little, settled a farm south of Sebastopol in the 1870s. She was born on the farm where her parents, Calvin and Mattie, worked on Bodega Highway, west of town.
She told generations of nephews and nieces that when she was young her dad continued also to farm on the family land south of town along Gravenstein Highway. He grew corn there, and he told her that if she wanted to sell it at the family's vegetable stand alongside the highway she could keep the money and use it to buy school clothes.
Niece Bassior said Walker looked forward to July, when men of means would stream by on the way home to San Francisco from the Bohemian Grove Encampment near Monte Rio.
"They'd stop in their fancy cars and buy tons and tons of corn," Bassior said.
Walker attended Spring Hill School through the eighth grade, then entered Analy High in Sebastopol. In 1936, the year of her graduation, she served as class secretary and also as treasurer of the Girls' Athletic Association, a member of the cabinet of the Girls' League and a yearbook staffer.
It was recorded that she also tied the record in the girls' standing broad jump with a leap of 8 feet, 3 inches.
She later studied at Santa Rosa Junior College and trained as a teacher at San Francisco State Normal School, the future San Francisco State University. She earned her credentials, returned to Sebastopol and began teaching at Spring Hill in 1941.
She had moved on to Park Side School when she met Al Walker, a fellow career educator. They married in 1951. Al Walker died in 1998.
Wilma Walker taught several years at Park Side before transferring to Pine Crest School and then to Brook Haven, teaching mostly sixth graders.
"She just really loved teaching," Bassior said. She said that over the years many adults have told her and other of Walker's nieces and nephews, "She was my favorite teacher."
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