By Tracy Francis —
Katy Walker, the sixth child born to Martha and Kenneth “Snucks” Walker, arrived on a chilly November day in the year 1948. A product of two successful entrepreneurs, it was inevitable that Katy would find success in her entrepreneurship just as her parents and grandparents, Martha and William Twiggs, did before her.
Williams Twiggs forged his path as a prominent community minded figure in early Evanston as a fundraiser for the Emerson Street YMCA, Ebenezer Church and the Masonic temple on Emerson Street. He also owned and operated a printing press as well as a barbershop business. Martha Twiggs pursued a career in selling wigs for women made from natural hair and marketed her own product, “Twiggaline”, a hair growth product.
Her cousin, Kathryn “Kay” McDonald Wimp, a graduate from Northwestern University School of Music, was a vocalist with Duke Ellington’s band for seven-years and performed at Carnegie Hall. Katy’s parents Kenneth and Martha Walker ran a family upholstery business. Her son Kevin Johnson ran a construction business and later used his talents through the high demands from the City of Evanston and the responsibilities as the president of the ASFME Union.
Katy’s entrepreneurial spirit began when she was twelve years old. Her responsible and respectful drive granted her a babysitting job for a neighbor. Eventually, while working and learning side by side with her mother, she began to make breakfast and dinner for the family and even learned a handful of upholstery techniques, a business that her parents were involved in.
As a young adult, Katy used her talent as a beautician, earning her enough to pay her way through Beautician school. Katy later married, took residence on the military base where her husband was stationed and started a family bringing to the world Mika and Kevin Johnson.
On base, an unusual restriction did not allow her to work outside the house. The military required that the house stay tidy at all times and were enforced by random mandatory checks throughout the day. So Katy found herself at home cleaning, cooking and caring for two children.
However, life took a turn and Katy ended her marriage and returned back to Evanston with five dollars and two children in tow. Her parents supported Katy until she was able to take control of her own life and responsibilities. Her early skill sets would prove useful in her later life. She drew on her skills as a beautician, seamstress, and cook drew the attention of many. “I loved to cook and people seemed to enjoy my cooking.”
Katy eventually found employment at Wooddale Publishing in Highland Park, Illinois. On the side, Katy’s was planning her new business aspirations. After a time working with a family catering business in Evanston, she took those skills and began her own catering business.
Katy continued to run her catering business while maintaining full-time employment. Over time, she had been employed with Harper and Row Publishing, Benefit Trust Insurance, National College, Educational Testing Services, and at Hari and Associates Engineering.
In 1989 Katy found employment at the City of Evanston where she took on the responsibilities as a supervisor of the mailroom, switchboard staff, telephone switch board and Xerox room of the civic center. Her responsibilities grew to maintaining the office of facility management, radio maintenance for the civic building, became a member of the ESDA staff (emergency service disaster agency), managed personal management, issued keys to employees, and was customer service rep for facilities management.
I realized that I loved children much more than I liked adults.
Within one year of her new employment, she took in and cared for a two-week old baby and later adopted the baby. Katy realized her true passion, caring for children. “All during that time period of working for the city, I realized that I loved children much more than I liked adults. Adults were not my favorite people but children were. I didn’t realize that that until Stephanie came in my life.”
Having to go through the complicated Foster care system, a second time around in the educational system and in all having to parent again, Katy was well equipped to raise Stephanie. “I took heed to all the lesson from my parents which allowed me to be a good parent.”
When Stephanie entered preschool, Katy quit her high demand and well paying job with the city and got involved with the Child Care Center (C.C.C.) From juggling between going to school, cooking for the C.C.C. and mothering Stephanie, the C.C.C. recognized Katy’s natural ability and passion to caring for the preschoolers and offered her a position as a teachers assistant. The experience set the groundwork for her future career.
On one late evening, Katy received a visit from a young mother who reminded her of her self at that age. The young lady needed day care assistance as soon as the following day. Katy agreed to assist the young mother — and the beginning of a new business.
Resigning from the C.C.C. Katy established Katy’s Corner Learning Center and after training, certification and build-out, she was ready. “It looked like heaven.” Katy believed that every child, regardless of family financial situations, deserved quality childcare services. “When I was in need, a family looked after my two children for a small amount of money and provided great services. This has influenced me to always wanting to do the same for young women who was in my situation.”
During her time in school and working for the C.C.C., Katy revealed talents that she had yet to discovery. Arts and Crafts was Katy’s specialty and she feels that it was a blessing that she was able to apply what she created into an engaging learning experience for the children. Her creative juices kept flowing, as she patterned the districts Character Counts program into her own 7 principles of Kwanzaa, practiced through out the year. “I felt as though if the children learned Afrocentric principles and morals that it would benefit them.” Katy’s creativity encouraged fun while at the same time instilled her methods and lessons to the children.
Unity was an important principal Katy sought to instill, “Some of the children only had their mothers. I wanted to let everyone know that we were their extended family.” This benefited the children in a spiritual and positive way. “It was like we where all just one big family. We celebrated together, we learned together.” Katy made it a point to encourage young parents to be involved in the PTA. Katy would require mandatory parents support groups guiding each other through the operations of the school system, inviting psychologist, nurses, teachers to meetings and other sources to grow their parenting skills.
Katy emphasized reading, “Kindergarten isn’t like what it use to be. You need to know things before you get there.” She use literature and applied real life experience to help illustrate the story, allowing children to remain interactive with the story.
Children are little adults. They are always looking for guidance.
Field trips and nature exploration were frequent, meaningful and memorable. Using the children’s book Are You My Mother and relating it to the Embroil Science project at Dewey school, the children observed live eggs become hatchlings. Katy read the story as the chicks roamed around the children during story time. “I didn’t want them to be afraid of nature. So they watched this egg turn into a chicken.”
Career day is an everyday activity at Katy’s Korner. Children took part in career role-playing as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professions. Katy developed modules focusing on development. One module, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. taught and guided interaction within a community. “Children are little adults. They are always looking for guidance. So I set the standards of respect and I was able to teach them the importance of respect.”
Katy’s Korner Learning Center was indeed a place for the children to learn and to construct a solid ground for the culturing of their Afrocentric principles guild to their ancestry, but also a home away from home.
As Katy’s Korner Learning Center grew in capacity, she hired additional staff, enabling her to expand her knowledge base and community involvement. Katy ran the Books and Breakfast Club at Dewey School every morning. As a child, Katy remembered her own issues with reading. Within the club, Katy gathered donations of food and books of positive images of African American people.
She was also an outlet for kids to express themselves. In return Katy gave them words of wisdom and motivation. The experience taught Katy that she had a lot that she could give to kids and it became living proof when, over the years, the centers attendance grew. Now older, Katy’s adopted daughter, Stephanie, knew the value of volunteering, donating her time and giving back to her community, all of which were passed down from generation to generation.
Another group Katy formed was geared toward mentoring teen girls, Black African American Purls (BAAPS). Shortly after forming the group, Katy became active on the board of the YWCA and hoped to bring her BAAPS group to the center to address what she felt were signs of discrimination. “My mother and aunt contributed a role on the board of the YWCA and informed me of the racial inequality and I had hope that bringing BAAPS to the Y…” Katy said, “I realized that it could not happen and that I need to support these girls. So I discontinued the partnership and continued the group at my home.”
Katy took part in other volunteer opportunities. She worked with the YMCA’s Tiger Tiger program that immersed children in poetry and related activities. “Tiger Tiger was a place where children was able to express the feelings in a positive way.” She also worked with Young Evanston Artist (YEA) that offered the BAAPS girls an opportunity to express themselves through poetry.
Katy participated in the African Arts of through the city’s parks and recreation department. She took part in teaching Kindergartners at Fleetwood-Jourdain on Fridays, the summer camp at Robert Crown, and participated in an after school program in South Evanston. With the help of her good friend, Mr. Rick, they facilitated the reading program and in return, Katy contributed to the library that Mr. Rick established.
Katy was favored to reading If A Bus Could Talk to the students in her Books and Breakfast Club. Using her creative energy, she envisioned a play based on the book to perform during Black History Month for schools. Initially it was declined by the principle. However, the PTA let Katy put it on for them at a meeting. It did not take long for Katy to receive donations for the costumes and set material, all of which she produced. With standing room only, it was the largest ever PTA meeting held, and the largest participation of African American parents. Katy’s mission for the play was to encourage parents to become more active in their child’s academic carrier.
Katy’s also utilized her skills at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center’s annual end of the year plays and Kwanza performance. There she sewed consumes for the children and hosted activities for the children that participate in Children’s Day, a day dedicated to children and engage them in arts and crafts projects.
Being familiar with Instructional Educational Programs (IEP), focusing on children with learning disability issues and related behavior problems, she was often asked to attend regular meetings. Katy would then report back to parents who couldn’t attend or didn’t understand the content of the meetings. On other occasions, Katy would serve as a mediator between parents and principle were communication were an issue. Katy’s ultimate concern was for the fair treatment of children. She would inform parents in the program if their child were not being treated fairly. Her actions encouraged parents to sit with the principle and discuss concerns related to their child.
After twelve years of Katy’s Korner Learning Center and numerous volunteer projects, Katy health took a turn. After suffering from two stress-related heart attacks and the lost of her daughter-in-law. Katy realized there was one person she didn’t take care of, herself. “So I had to learn how to slow down.” Retiring from her activities, and in need of a change of environment, Katy and Stephanie moved to the Southern Suburbs of Chicago, only to return to nearby Rogers Park.
In 1998 the Board of the Childcare Network of Evanston began a program to recognize individuals who made outstanding personal commitment to early childhood education. In 2007 Katy was honored for her commitment and contributions toward the care and wellbeing of children.
Source: Recorded interview of Katy Walker on October 10, 2010 conducted by 2010 Shorefront high school intern, Tracy Francis. The recording is part of the Shorefront audio collection archived at the Shorefront Legacy Center. Photograph of Katy Walker at her home, 2010. © Rich Foreman Photography