MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Bob Walton, former owner of Rowland Hardware Store in Charleston, passed away in Memphis Sunday, Sept. 2.
He was married to Alice May Rowland Walton for 67 years. Celebrating his life are his children and their spouses, Sunnie and Ronnie Barkley, Lise and Bill Sage, Lee and Rhonda Walton, and Amy and Eric Chilton, 9 grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren.
Bob was a “find-a-need-and-fill-it” man who desired to make a positive difference wherever he was. He will be remembered for his time in Charleston (1953-1971) as one of the primary founders of the Little League and Pony League organizations. Not only did he help build the fields, organize the teams, recruit coaches and umpires, raise financial support, he also spent many nights of each summer working in whatever position was needed at the fields. Even though his daughters Sunnie and Lise couldn’t play Little League (it was only for boys then), Bob had them in the concession stand nightly selling dill pickles, cokes, and candy (thus learning their math while figuring how to add and make change). A crafty motivator, Bob would give away free cokes to anyone who picked up a case of the glass coke bottles. Finally, he and Alice had a son, Lee, who could represent the Waltons on the field! Then a few years later, daughter Amy was born, but girls still couldn’t play, so the daughters were allowed to run the bases after each game.
Being very civic-minded, Bob was deeply involved in the Charleston Rotary Club. To give the kids of Charleston some good places to gather, he was involved in starting several teen centers, the Tallahatchie Country Club and the Mug and Cone. Quite a few of the youth group of the Methodist Church MYF got to attempt dipping those vanilla cones in the hot chocolate syrup without dropping the ice cream!
The Methodist Church youth group was one of his favorite interests. Bob was a bit unconventional here as well, reading Animal Farm to the Sunday School class and building The Time Machine for Vacation Bible School. (Bob could build almost anything from a refrigerator box!) He let the youth paint the machine inside the Sunday school room, so the Sunday school floor got painted also. Oops!! He and Alice were known to sponsor “Destination” on Sunday nights and to host lots of fun events like Hillbilly Parties in the fellowship hall – whatever it took to keep the teenagers coming to church. A tobacco-spitting contest (sugar mixed with Hershey’s cocoa) was even included.
Twice a year he attended the hardware show in Chicago. After seeing his first hula hoop, he came home and started production of the Walton version. How many hundreds of feet of black PVC pipe went into Charleston hoops, custom wrapped with colored electrical tape?
The hardware store was open 7 a.m. - 6 p.m., but Bob would open nights and Sundays if someone called and needed something. That included one Christmas morning at 7 a.m. for Santa to pick up a few batteries for a child’s toy. Having the “Santa Claus Charleston Distribution Center” (layaway) on the upstairs floors at the store, he would never close on Christmas Eve until every toy was picked up. Many Christmas Eves, he could be seen making home deliveries after 10:30 p.m. so no child would miss Christmas.
Having served as a lay minister in the Methodist Church, Bob finally accepted the call to ministry in 1971. The Waltons moved to Austin, Texas for Seminary and then to Benton, Ark. for his first church. From there, he served churches in Clarksville, Ark., Wagoner, Okla. and Sandersville, Miss. He and Alice retired to Olive Branch in the 1990’s and continued service as an interim minister at several churches.
Bob Walton was a loving husband and father, living and teaching unconditional love and acceptance. He was an innovative businessman and an inspiration to many people in the communities and churches wherever he lived. His family hopes some of you will remember him fondly and smile as you read this.