By JOHN DAYBERRY firstname.lastname@example.org
HICKORY — Sheila Charlene Walker and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks make for a good fit.
“The Hickory Elks Lodge has given me an opportunity to do what I really think is important,” Walker said, who is chairwoman of the Hickory lodge’s Veterans Committee. “Everything they’ve asked me to do I’ve done gladly. I feel very blessed to be a member of this lodge.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Charlene gets it all done,” longtime Elk Tim Long said, who has known Walker for 45 years and was instrumental in getting her to join the fraternal order. “She’s a very giving person, very dependable. She’s the kind of person you’d want in your foxhole.”
Walker was born in Morganton but grew up in Hickory. She graduated from Hickory High School in 1969. She attended East Carolina University and Arizona State University, and earned a Master of Business Administration from ECU in 1988.
From 1976 to 1980, Walker served in the U.S. Air Force. She was stationed in England for three years, working in military pay. Her service time coincided with the 1979 evacuation of Americans from Iran as well as heightened activities by such groups as the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
“It was an exciting time to be stationed overseas for sure,” she said.
As a civilian, Walker was involved in various business endeavors over the years, including stints with a fundraising business and with New York Life. Her MBA studies focused on finance and the stock market, which led to a longtime involvement with the National Association of Investment Clubs. She taught weekend classes for the NAIC, and was on the organization’s board for nine years.
“That was fun, plus it taught me how to build a profitable portfolio of my own.”
In 1990, Walker began teaching business administration courses at Catawba Valley Community College. Somewhat to her surprise, she discovered she was very good at it, and found it most enjoyable.
“It turned into a 22-year career, something I’m very proud of,” Walker said. “I have students I taught 20 years ago who still keep in touch with me, who seek my advice when they’re considering a career move,” she said. “That’s a good feeling.”
Walker was at the college during some tough economic times, when people who had been laid off from jobs came to CVCC seeking re-training.
“Some of those folks had always worked in mills, and couldn’t see themselves doing anything else,” she said. “I advised them, told them we’d do it one step at a time. As they progressed, you could see the change taking place in them. That was rewarding. I have a lot of good memories of that time.”
In 2003, Walker was among the first four women initiated into Hickory Elks Lodge No. 1654. She has been actively involved from the start, and has held the offices of secretary, esquire and knight.
“This is a great group of people,” Walker said. “It truly meets my need to get together with like-minded people to do good deeds as well as to socialize. This is a great way to give back.”
Hickory Elks’ community efforts range from helping to feed the needy and offering a variety of activities for youth and for adults with special needs to honoring outstanding JROTC members, firefighters and law enforcement personnel. The lodge and the Lady Elks worked together to host the 2015 Taste of Hickory event.
But it’s the organization’s dedication to assisting veterans that is especially important to Walker.
“As a veteran, I want very much to help veterans,” she said. “It’s something dear to my heart.”
Since World War I, Elks have honored and assisted veterans in many ways. The Elks pledge that “So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them.”
Local Elks efforts include regularly visiting the NC Veterans Home in Black Mountain and supporting the annual Foothills Homeless Veterans Stand Down event. Held in April at the American Legion Fairgrounds, the 2015 Stand Down provided homeless and needy veterans in a 12-county area with food, clothing and personal hygiene items as well as a variety of services related to health care, employment and housing. The Elks is one of some 50 organizations involved in the Hickory event, which is one of the largest of its kind in North Carolina.
In addition to her Elks-related efforts to help veterans, Walker is a member of Unifour Veterans Helping Veterans and Tri-County Disabled Veterans.
“I’m very fortunate to have what I have, and I try not to be cynical about people, especially veterans,” Walker said. “I look at people in need and I realize that but for the grace of God, that could be me.”
A cancer survivor of 18 years, Walker loves to travel.
She says there are four “g”s that are especially important to her: “going, golfing, gambling and gardening, in that order.”
Walker has two sisters in the area: Janice Berry and Suzi Newton.
She said her next goal is to identify and help area veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We need some way in this county of identifying those veterans and getting their needs met,” she said. “We’ve got to find a way to do that.”
Walker said she cannot imagine a life that does not include helping others.
“Hickory Elks Lodge has given me the opportunity to do that,” she said. “I’m very proud to be an Elk.”