Walter defied expectations

A DOCTOR TOLD Stephen Walter’s parents he needed to be in an institution, but they were determined to raise him like the rest of their children. He went to school, worked, competed in Special Olympics and liked spending time with his family. (Photo provided)

A DOCTOR TOLD Stephen Walter’s parents he needed to be in an institution, but they were determined to raise him like the rest of their children. He went to school, worked, competed in Special Olympics and liked spending time with his family. (Photo provided)

By SARA ARTHURS
Staff Writer
Stephen Walter was a gifted artist, a loving uncle, a hard worker and a man of deep faith. He also had Down syndrome.
But, his family was resolved never to let it stop him from living a full life.
Walter, who died on March 9 at age 64, was the 11th of 12 children in his Carey family. He lived in Upper Sandusky in his later years.
When he was born in 1951, not as much was known about developmental disabilities. It would be another eight years before Down syndrome was identified as a chromosomal disorder.
When he was little and his family noticed something wrong in him, they brought him to a pediatrician. The doctor said he would need to be in an institution, that he would never know fear or danger, and that he would never ride a bicycle.
But Walter’s parents, the late William and Frona Walter, were determined to raise him alongside the rest of their children. So, they took him home.
“They never treated him like he was handicapped,” said his sister, Naomi Davis of Findlay. “None of us did.”
If he did something wrong, they would correct him.
Walter was one of the first students to attend Angeline School of Opportunity in the basement of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carey in 1958. There, he learned to write. He also learned a little math, such as putting change into a machine.
The family had a farm with grain and animals. Walter worked hard, feeding steers, gathering eggs, milking cows and mowing the lawn.
That hard work continued into adulthood. He worked at Angeline Industries in Upper Sandusky through the mental retardation and developmental disabilities program for 45 years. He mostly assembled things. His sister said he loved working and, if he was sick, it was hard to talk him into staying home.
But he also filled his leisure time with things he enjoyed. Walter’s hobbies included drawing, puzzles and latchhooking.
Davis said he especially liked drawing barns and tractors. She made a quilt of his drawings after transferring them to cloth.
He loved the Wyandot County Fair, and would exhibit paintings there. He was a good swimmer, and bowled in Special Olympics, earning several trophies.
“He evolved into an adult, a young adult,” Davis said.
He had more than 100 CDs of country music, “and he listened to them all the time,” she said.
After the family quit raising chickens, they converted a chicken coop, adding carpet and furnishings.
“This was his little man cave,” Davis said.
Walter hooked up some old speakers.
“I don’t know how he learned to do that, but he just did,” Davis said.
Walter lived there, alone, from 2002 to 2014, with Davis and other siblings checking in on him. She said he made his own meals and kept the house “neat as a pin.”
She said she didn’t want him to live in a group home.
“He just adjusted well,” she said.
Davis said he was neat, and good at taking care of himself. His clothes matched, and he never had to be reminded to brush his teeth.
His faith was very important to him.
“He read the Bible every single night,” Davis said.
She said she didn’t know how much he comprehended, but he would memorize verses.
So, church was important to him, and he would sing there. His favorite was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
At family get-togethers, he would offer prayers that were spontaneous, not recited.
“Stephen prayed, and he prayed from the heart,” Davis said.
He looked forward to times when all of the family would be together. When Easter was over, he would ask where they planned to meet on Mother’s Day, then Father’s Day.
Walter called Davis every single night. She was his guardian for many years. She was 14 years older than her brother. She recalled perming his hair when they were young.
“He was just a good little fella,” Davis said.
She said they formed an especially close relationship and he was almost more like a son than a brother to her. He was also very close to Davis’ daughter, who felt he was like her brother.
Walter loved being an uncle and was close to his nieces and nephews. When any of the nieces or nephews went on vacation, “Guess who got the cards?” Davis said.
Their sister and brother-in-law took him to Amish country.
“Oh, my goodness, he loved flea markets,” Davis said.
And, yes, he did learn to ride a bicycle.
When he was little, there was more prejudice against people with developmental disabilities than there is now, Davis said. She said people would stare at him, something that doesn’t happen as often today as it did then.
He did have an awareness that he had a disability.
Davis recalled that one time she, her husband and her brother were in a restaurant and they encountered another person who also had Down syndrome. Her brother’s response was, “He looks like me.” So, she said, there was this sense that he knew he was different.
He went into a nursing home in 2015, after he started developing dementia. It made him afraid at night, something that had never been the case before.
“I think he made an impact on people’s lives,” Davis said. “Stephen was Stephen and what you saw once, you saw all the time.”
Arthurs: 419-427-8494
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