CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
HED: Tupelo retiree gains state honor
By Philip Moulden
A retiree who left Illinois to spend his autumn years in Tupelo has been named Volunteer of the Year in Mississippi's retirement program.
Harry Walker, 70, was presented the award by Jimmy Heidel, director of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, at the recent 4th annual Southeastern Retirement Symposium in Vicksburg.
The Vicksburg symposium was sponsored by Hometown Mississippi Retirement and the DECD. It drew more than 150 people from across the United States to discuss topics dealing with the economic impact of retirees, trends in retirement living and retirement destinations.
Walker, and his wife, Ellen, were members of a panel delving into the issue subject, "We Could Have Retired Anywhere."
The Walkers are now Tupelo ambassadors, some 15 people who donate their time to give potential retirees tours of the area or to make retirees feel welcome once they move to the city.
The Walkers also do volunteer work for civic clubs and various community aid organizations.
"They (the Walkers) are very good. All my volunteers are extremely important to the program," noted Amy Strickland, director of the city's retiree attraction effort.
"Not only do we get them (retirees) here, but we try to personalize it," Strickland said. "They (the Walkers) make you (newcomers) welcome here. You know you have friends here.
"There's just a multitude of things he (Walker) does that help our program be successful."
Walker, who retired from Kraft Foods Co. in Deerfield, Ill., in 1989, discovered Tupelo when Kraft asked him to work a few weeks at a new plant the company had purchased. It was Institutional Food Distributors in Tupelo.
"We came down intending to stay two weeks and ended up staying five months," Walker said.
In that span Ellen, a Chicago native, became a Southerner, said Walker, himself a Shreveport, La., product.
"She'd go to the hairdresser or (store) and people would say 'hi' to her, and she wasn't accustomed to that up North," Walker said. "She fell in love with these people."
After the Tupelo consulting stint, the Walkers returned to Mount Pleasant, Ill., a Chicago suburb, where he continued to work for Kraft as a consultant until 1993.
The move South
Finally, it was time to retire for good and they looked to move south. He suggested Shreveport, but Ellen balked. She mentioned Florida, but he wanted none of that.
Tupelo was an easy choice and one they have never second-guessed, Walker said.
"We've never regretted it for a minute," he said.
Tupelo is one of 20 certified retirement communities in Mississippi. Officials estimate that bringing one new retirement couple to an area is the equivalent of adding 3.7 new factory jobs.
Relocating retirees typically have annual incomes of $33,000, most of it unencumbered, and total assets of $250,000 to $300,000, officials say.
They also provide a community a wealth of experience and are a source of untold hours of volunteer community service.
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