James Alvin Walker
December 31, 1933—April 4, 2020
James Alvin Walker, affectionately known as “Big Jim” or “Pops” to his family, was born in Rosebud, Texas to Christine White and Tommy James Walker. Christine later married Sergeant Raymond H. Penn and together they seamlessly blended families with their other children and Jim’s siblings, Herman Walker, Alfred Penn, and Emma Lou Penn. The family later moved to San Antonio, Texas where Jim grew up. They attended church, where Jim found God, continued to serve, and lived knowing God’s power and grace would cover him as he pursued his dreams and life’s challenges. With a loving and nurturing family surrounding him, he often spent his summers with relatives in Rosebud and Amarillo, Texas.
Jim graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in San Antonio, and moved on to further his studies at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama. There Jim received his bachelor’s degree in architectural science and also joined the Lambda Epsilon chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. Jim’s pledge class included 13 mighty Omega men where he was the #3 and known by his frat brothers as “Dusty.” Tuskegee became a cornerstone of Jim’s life, legacy, and his family. His younger brother Herman followed in his footsteps—also graduating from Tuskegee, and later over six other family members throughout three generations have since followed. Most notably, Jim met the one person he had a soft spot for, Dorothy Louise Rogers, who he called “Dot.” Jim and Dorothy married on February 1, 1955 and remained married over 65 years—until his earthly departure.
After graduation, Jim went on to further his studies to specialize in historic preservation at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts. Due to his love for Tuskegee, Jim afterwards returned and continued to support his alma mater. One of his most esteemed accomplishments was being selected by the National Park Service to perform both historic preservation and construction remodeling work for some of the United States’ most iconic African-American monuments, including: The George Washington Carver Museum, Grey Columns (a former slave plantation and current home of the university president), and The Oaks (home of Booker T. Washington).
After fulfilling a brief military assignment with the United States Army, Jim departed with honorable discharge and moved to Colorado with his wife, to raise their family. Before moving to Denver, Jim and Dorthy settled in Colorado Springs with his Aunt Birdie, who he described as, “The best auntie anywhere! She invited me and Dot to come live with her and she took care of us when we didn’t have anything to our name.”
Jim loved road trips. He would make 14-hour trips to visit San Antonio in a classic Oldsmobile 88. He had a unique way of making the kids behave on these trips. It was he and Dorothy in the front and 4 kids in the back seat. He enjoyed fishing, the mountains, as well as talking and having fun with the other Denver families on 29th and Birch Street. One of his favorite past times was watching old western movies. Those who knew him closely found he had a great sense of humor and yes, he could “play the dozens with the best of them.” Jim also was a very talented craftsman and loved working with his hands. He was a “master builder” skilled at both design and construction. Infact, he built a new home for his family on Colorado Boulevard and everyone in the family had to help. (His kids would always tease him, joking the house was built with child labor!)
Jim’s career peaked working as an architect for several architectural firms. But the desire to build drove him to start his own construction company, J.A. Walker Co, Inc., in 1976. Today J.A. Walker Co. has a legacy of successfully completing over $1 billion in construction projects and some of Denver’s most high-profile buildings. The list includes: The Automated Ground Transportation Train System at Denver International Airport (DIA), The Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library, The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, The Denver Post Building, Colorado Convention Center, The Denver Pavilions, Downtown Hyatt Hotel, Five Points Plaza, the Martin Luther King, Jr. recreation center, Downtown Denver’s 16th Street Mall, and over $100 million in other construction projects at DIA. He also worked nationally to build the Curtis E. LeMay Strategic Command Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, a post office in Tampa, Florida, along with the Anasazi Indian Heritage Museum in Cortez, Colorado. He received numerous awards for excellence, including: the Small Business Administration’s National Subcontractor of the Year and “Best of Colorado” on several occasions. Despite these accolades, he never forgot his Tuskegee foundation. He provided summer internships for its students studying architecture and construction management; and even chaperoned and sponsored students on an academic trip to Egypt, Africa.
After being denied his general contractor’s license because of his race, Jim fought his entire career for equal and fair opportunities for all disadvantaged people. He and other contractors founded the Minority Association of Contractors (MAC) to ensure this happened. Jim continued to advocate for this cause until his body could no longer allow him to.
Jim loved his family and made providing the best life for them his top priority. Left to cherish his memory are his wife Dorothy; his siblings Dr. Herman Walker (Pat), Alfred Penn (Liz), Emma Lou Penn-Jones, and Bonnie Gill (who was like a sister); his children Ron Seay (Belinda), Bert Rogers (Eloise), Derrick (Michelle), James Anthony (Deidra), Belinda, and Jomo Nkrumah; along with 12 grandkids: Michele, Bert Jr., Nicolas (Jamie), Joaquin (Sarah), Japera (Dustin), DeAndrea, Jamilia, Jaron, Ronald II (Belinda), Tamica, and DeJanee. Also surviving him are his 18 great grandkids: Adili, Amani, Aisha, Aliyah, Amiara, Akilah, Anisa, Neevaeh, Ethan, Gabriella, Chance Anderson, Ezekiel, Braeya, Sterling, Nadia, Naomi, Bertram III, Isiah Rogers; and a host of nephews, nieces, and other family members. (Proceeding him in death are his father, Tommy James Walker, his parents Raymond and Christine Penn and his brother Richard Lee Walker.)
Pops – you are loved, and will be dearly missed!