Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Max Walker of Milwaukee Recreation
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Max Walker has been a mentor and a role model to Milwaukee kids for decades. A lot of what he knows, he learned growing up on Milwaukee playgrounds, himself. He’s put that knowledge to good use—working for Milwaukee Rec for more than 50 years, and influencing the lives of generations of young people.
“This a little touch shot, here, kill 'em,” Walker said, shooting a basket at the Beulah Brinton Community Center in Bayview.
At 76-years-old, he’s still got moves on the court.
“I played forward in college,” he said, dribbling the ball.
He’s a team player, making shots and also assists.
“See, that's an assist. I get an assist every time he makes one,” he said with a laugh.
Colleague Romell Greer said that’s just who Walker is.
“Max is a person when you first meet him, you can tell he's a man of wisdom,” Greer said.
It’s wisdom he’s earned. Walker grew up in Milwaukee in the 1950s.
“I grew up on 9th and Vine, right across the street from Social Center, Lapham Park Social Center,” he recalled.
A basketball star at Milwaukee Lincoln, he earned a college scholarship to Indiana University.
“Oh, they believed you could walk on water,” he said. “And being on scholarship, it meant a lot.”
Walker said if it wasn’t for basketball, he wouldn’t have been able to afford college.
“We just didn't have the money,” Walker said. “There was just my mother and my two brothers.”
His experience and IU stoked his basketball dreams.
“I was like a 4th round draft choice from Detroit, Detroit Pistons,” he said.
But with a wife and a baby, his mother told him to come home.
“My mother said, you can't go gallivanting all over the United States, because they didn't pay the kind of money. There was no signing bonus,” he remembered.
Back in Milwaukee, he started teaching and coaching at Rufus King High School, but it was a summer job that turned into a lifelong passion.
“I got started and couldn't quit. I've been quitting Recreation how many years? Probably about, probably about 25 years, I've been trying to quit Recreation,” he joked.
He’s been working for Milwaukee Recreation for 51 years. He said his first job with MKE Rec was working spring playground at Keefe Avenue School. It’s where he met his friend, Excell Moore.
“He was a very popular person in Milwaukee,” Moore said. “Very popular because of his championship games that he had won at King High School and his personality, for sure.”
That personality connected with kids.
“If you show me 100 and I get one success, bring me my next 100,” Walker said of the impact he hopes to have.
Over the years, he’s touched countless lives.
“I'm a kids person because I see, what I see in kids today—see, I was raised in Hillside, which was only two blocks from my house, and I see myself in these kids,” Walker said.
Most recently, he’s been involved in the seven-week “Earn and Learn” program. It’s designed to show kids what it means to have a job—everything from getting to work on time to opening a bank account for your paycheck.. Moore said Walker exemplifies leadership.
“Teaching kids how to come to work on time. Being responsible for your job. Taking care of your money, respecting each other,” Moore said of the things Walker teaches them.
Walker said he loves to see those kids come back as adults.
“Teachers, professors, policemen. All facets of life,” he said with pride.
Greer, who works with Employ Milwaukee, said Walker shows the kids he cares.
“Every kid that worked with him that summer, he knew all of their information,” Greer said. “He knew their name, he knew where they stayed, he knew if they had any issues.”
Life skills Walker learned on Milwaukee’s playgrounds that have served him well, and he said it’s work that gives him something in return.
“Oh, a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment,” he said with a smile. “And it's fun. It keeps you young.”
For more information on the “Earn and Learn” program, you can visit https://www.employmilwaukee.org/. Or, check out Milwaukee Recreation at https://milwaukeerecreation.net/.
If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at [email protected]