Karen "Kay" Walker was a nurse who served three terms on the Bloomington school board and advised governors from both parties on education issues in the 1980s.
"She was an outstanding board member," said former Superintendent Leila Anderson, who worked with Walker for more than a decade. "Her decisions were always based on what was best for students. She never made any political decisions. She represented the concerns of students, parents, educators and the community."
Walker, 78, died from a cancerous brain tumor Saturday in Bloomington, where her family lived more than half a century, her husband said.
Walker served as a special assistant for education to Republican Gov. Al Quie in 1983. The next year DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed her to a six-member panel formed to recommend ways to end stalemates resulting from the state's collective bargaining law for teachers.
Retired governor Quie recalled Walker as "outgoing and good and direct in a loving way...a wonderful person."
She was very articulate, offered solid advice and understood the importance of trust in the teacher-child relationship, especially for children from abusive homes, he said. Quie said he tried unsuccessfully to increase state funding to reduce elementary class size so teachers could visit their students' homes and talk to parents. He said Walker knew parents were a key in student learning and school decisions.
Walker also was president of the Bloomington League of Women Voters and served on the state league's board, said her husband, Darrel Walker. He said she grew up in Des Moines and they started dating as high school seniors after Kay and about 15 other girls came up with a novel idea. The girls rented a band for a private dance in a hotel ballroom and she invited him. A month later he invited her to the senior prom. "She hooked me then," he said.
His wife loved golf, her grandchildren and travel, he said. That included trips to Europe and even Minot, N.D., once on a January business trip with him.
Anderson said Walker was on the board when it made some tough budget cuts and boundary changes.
"She always did her homework and made decisions based on what was best for the district, not just for that year but for years to come...I didn't always agree with her but I always knew she was giving it her best."
After leaving the board in 1981, Walker continued to volunteer, and represented parents on a panel that started a districtwide alternative school at Hillcrest Elementary to handle a jump in enrollment in 1990. "She was invaluable to us," Anderson said.
School board attorney Kingsley Holman worked with Walker in the 1970s. "She was a very compassionate person in her dealings with the board and the people who came before us," he said. "She was looking to find a fair solution. She was the kind of person you would like to have as a neighbor and friend."
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their daughters, Diane Jelle, of Bellevue, Wash., and Debra Johnson, of Cottage Grove; four grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.