PAWTUCKET — From his first day at Saint Raphael Academy in 1960, to the environs of Atlanta, where he founded a very successful business nearly 30 years later, Chuck Walker has never forgotten where he came from.
As a student, after school and sports were done for the day at Saint Raphael, Walker would head home to 32 Hendricks St. in Central Falls, where he and his family lived for the first eight years of his life.
They occupied one-half of the third floor apartment, while his grandmother, aunt and uncle lived on the first floor.
“We had no car, so we walked everywhere, including my father for work at Sayles Finishing Factory,” Walker said.
A few years later, his father became a bakery driver, so the family used the bread truck for their transportation.
“My sister and I rode in the back in bread boxes,” he said, smiling at the memory.
“We purchased our first used car my sophomore year at Saints, but we were family.”
While the family had very humble beginnings, Walker said it was a privilege for him to be able to attend Holy Trinity School and then to be accepted at St. Raphael Academy. His formative years in Catholic education set the course for his life.
Despite the miles his career would carry him from Pawtucket and St. Raphael Academy, Walker has always made the time to help his alma mater in any way he possibly could.
On April 1, St. Raphael showed its appreciation for his decades of service to the school, and generosity in contributing to its capital campaigns, by rededicating its former West Building as the Walker Family Building.
“We are here to acknowledge and thank Chuck Walker for his lifelong dedication to Saint Raphael Academy and the generosity he has shown our Academy throughout his lifetime,” Principal Dan Richard said before an outdoor gathering of about two dozen members of the Walker family who traveled from Georgia for the occasion and a large group of students from Saint Raphael.
Richard spoke of how Walker, a member of the Class of ’64 played many sports while a student there and left a lasting impression on many of his classmates.
After graduating from Saint Raphael, Walker enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He would go on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School, start a family and sharpen his skills as a successful businessman.
In 1989, he founded Chemlink Laboratories, and his business became highly successful. The Keenesaw, Georgia business began as a research and development company specializing in formulating effervescent powders and tablets. It now produces a wide range of tablet options for the consumer, institutional and industrial markets.
But through it all, Walker always kept in contact with Saint Raphael Academy, giving of his time and resources to help improve the campus and to make it possible for as many students as possible to attend.
“Chuck has stayed involved with St. Ray’s. He has co-chaired the last two capital campaigns at our Academy and he has always been willing to share his gifts with others. Anytime I have asked him to help us with a special project or a student in need, he has always emphatically said ‘Yes!’ Richard said, noting how Walker’s most recent contribution put the school over the top of its $5 million goal of its current campaign.
“I am thrilled to be before you here today to rededicate this building in honor of the Walker family. Chuck Walker is a wonderful example for all of us, throughout his life he never forgot where he came from, and he always remembered the people and organizations that helped shape and mold him into the person he is today. During the past five decades, Mr. Walker always freely gave of his time, talent and treasures to Saint Raphael Academy and today we honor him for his service to our Academy.”
Walker addressed the gathering as his wife Anna; daughters Lisa, Megan, Traci and their families; and his sister Patti and her family looked on proudly.
“Today is truly one of the great honors of my life,” Walker said.
“As I look back on the past 75 years, I have been very fortunate to have received much support from others. It begins with God, who I know has never left my side through both success and failure.”
He recalled his first day at the school, with his homeroom in Room 4, right behind where he was speaking. He said he was pleased the room has been named in honor of his longtime friend of 70 years, Father Ron Brassard, who passed away last August.
“He was a caring advocate of Saints and served on many boards and campaigns for our school,” Walker said of Father Brassard.
He said that the memories he made there were numerous and that he made great friends there.
“I can honestly say, without a doubt, Saints had the greatest impact on my life,” he said. “We came here as boys and left as men.”
Before the unveiling of the sign dedicating the building to the Walker family, Auxiliary Bishop Evans offered an invocation and blessed the building with holy water.
Saint Raphael Chaplain Father Ryan Simas read the Gospel reading and two students, seniors Megan Napon and Diana Lopes, read the Responsorial Psalm.
Steve Vargas, director of Campus Ministry said he found it poignant that Walker has remained true to his Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi.
“He has always been faithful to our Academy. We’re doing bigger and bigger things for a small school thanks to his generosity,” Vargas said.
Senior Bobby Brown said he was a little envious that he would not be at Saint Raphael in the years to come to see the good that the campaign proceeds will do to improve the campus.
Brown, who also has aspirations of earning an MBA, said he was inspired by Walker’s life story.
“It’s inspiring to hear him talk about that and one day I want to be that generous as well,” he said.
Senior Megan Napon, who is going on to study nursing in the fall, found Walker’s story to be inspiring as well.
“It was very touching to hear that Saints really had an impact on his life, and he carries it on with him to this day,” she said.
Senior Diana Lopes, who will study nursing as a precursor to hopefully becoming a doctor one day,
“I think it’s more impactful for us, especially because we’re seniors, so we’re going to follow in the same footsteps as him. So I think it really empowers us to give back to our school community.”