Don Walter—One of a Kind

Written by Mark Graham
From his column Editor’s Choice

Photo by William Duke

As most of you are aware, our director and friend Don Walter passed away on March 26, 2019. He had suffered an irregular heartbeat in his sleep a week earlier and—despite the best efforts of paramedics, physicians and nurses, and hundreds of prayers—never regained consciousness.

Those who were close to Don thought, “He’s only 66. He’s strong. He works out every day, bikes hundreds of miles annually, watches his weight, and keeps his mind razor sharp. He’ll beat this.” We truly believed he would.

So, we waited and prayed with expectation, joined by others around the world. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, our prayers for physical recovery were answered by God’s decision to welcome Don home to his heavenly reward. Still, we miss him.

With you, we grieve for Don’s family—his wife Kathy; daughters Alyssa and Amanda; and grandchildren Max, Abby, and Lyla.

Don’s sudden departure leaves us shocked and saddened. He was planning to retire in three years, following the next General Assembly. As per usual, he had been busy making immediate plans, which included overseeing adjustments to the ministers’ insurance program and traveling to Scottsdale for a meeting on legal matters affecting benefit plans. He was rejoicing in the recently announced decision by a federal court upholding the constitutionality of the ministers’ housing allowance, and he was looking forward to an upcoming bike ride with friends. Up to the end, he was active. That’s the way he liked to be. Even at home, he stayed busy. He read constantly, was creative, and had a variety of hobbies over the years—like restoring old fountain pens and tooling leather. He drank coffee from a half-pint Mason jar cradled in a holder he designed, tooled, and assembled.

I first met Don in December 1983. That’s when my wife Cathy and I moved to Kansas City for me to attend seminary. I worked for General Secretary B. Edgar Johnson doing the news service for the denomination, while my wife was offered a job in what was then called Pensions and Benefits Services.

Don had started about three months earlier in the Pensions office, having been hired by then director Dean Wessels. His early tasks included stuffing pension checks, stocking the snack closet, making occasional runs to Dairy Queen for treats, and generally trying to keep the atmosphere upbeat in what was largely a financial office. It wasn’t long before his true gifts were recognized and he was appointed office manager, began taking on more responsibility, and, in 1994, was elected by the Board of General Superintendents as the new director.

The work of Pensions and Benefits USA will carry on because Don had been a good steward in preparing for the future.

Over the 35 years that I knew Don, the last 14 of which I served in the P&B office with him and the rest of his outstanding staff, I came to understand how much he cared for the ministers, widows, and other servants of the church. He was a walking “Google” of knowledge about ministerial finance. He spent countless hours conducting workshops and answering questions from pastors and spouses, district and general superintendents, church treasurers and others about financial planning, taxation, compensation, insurance, and retirement.

I witnessed his near psychic ability to anticipate and prepare for the future to assure that ministers and retirees had the best possible benefits that could be afforded by our churches. I saw his pain when the economy tanked in 2008, affecting the retirement accounts of ministers.

He had an unquenchable desire to make systems efficient and to encourage ministers to plan for their financial future. He also sought to encourage retirees who, in their older years, might sometimes feel the church had forgotten them. Don had not. That’s one of the reasons he made sure every retiree received a card and small gift on their birthday, or flowers on special anniversaries. He sent letters to ministers and widows following the death of a spouse, reminding them of the faithfulness of the Lord, and that the church was there to assist them in their time of need.

Don was witty, thoughtful, intelligent, innovative—even bold when it came to protecting the interests of the ministers of the church—and driven by the desire to assure that the motto, “Serving Those Who Serve,” was a reality. He understood and often said, “Every dollar we hold in trust has someone’s name on it.” He truly was a friend to pastors.

Certainly, things aren't the same without Don in his corner office, but that's the way he liked it. There was always room for change—for providing more value or services for the 17,000 persons whose lives are touched by this office. And the good news is, one of Don’s gifts was the ability to gather around him qualified, talented, sensitive men and women who likewise are dedicated to serving the ministers of the Church of the Nazarene. The work of Pensions and Benefits USA will carry on because Don had been a good steward in preparing for the future—something he encouraged every minister to do.

Don will be succeeded by a new director shortly, and we will adjust to a new personality and leadership style. That’s part of life. It goes on as God works in His mysterious ways and opens new doors even as old ones are closed. Still, we will miss our boss and friend Don Walter. He was truly one of a kind.

Mark Graham is communication resources manager and editor for Pensions and Benefits USA.