"If I had my choice of any other profession, I would be a poet"
Ardis Manley Walker made this statement, which was published in an edition of the Kern Valley Sun in 1989. However, during his long productive life, Ardis was a scholar, an engineer, a journalist, a politician, an author, a conservationist and a poet!
He was born on April 9, 1901, in Keyesville, one of five children of Bill Walker and Etta Mae Bole. In 1911, his mother took her children to Fresno to get a good education, supporting herself by operating a boarding house. Graduating from Fresno H.S. in 1920, he entered Fresno Normal College and was active in several sports. He entered UCLA in 1924, but attended only one year because of a Walker family tragedy.
Ardis' father, Bill Walker, was the only one of seven brothers who did not belong to what was referred to as the famed "Shooting Walker Clan." Bill Walker's six brothers were thought to have killed at least one man each. In 1924, Bill's brother, Tom, killed their brother Newt, and two other men and then committed suicide. There were headlines and much publicity about the incident in the Bakersfield Californian.
In 1925, overcoming what must have been tremendous emotional turmoil, Ardis enrolled in USC, majoring in Electrical Engineering and worked at night at the L.A. Department of Water and Power. At USC he was president of Sigma Phi Delta and a member of Eta Kappa Nu, an honorary engineering fraternity. He received an award from Westinghouse Corporation, awarded only to students who had earned all of their university expenses. He then went to work for Bell Labs in NYC, referred to as "one of the world's most prestigious facilities."
In 1932, Ardis quit his job in Manhattan and returned to California, bought a cottage in Los Angeles and moved it to Keyesville. That fall he met the love of his life, Gayle Mendelssohn, at a dance in Weldon. Gayle was a former Queen of the Tulare County Fair and was a teacher at the Kern Union School. They were married in June 1937 and settled in the Keyesville cottage, which had been relocated to a site between Kernville and Isabella.
Ardis worked as a correspondant for the Bakersfield Californian in the 1930's, writing mostly about the history of the Kern River Valley. He also was editor of the Kernville News and wrote a series of articles for Ken Wortley's magazine, "Sierra Rainbow." His political career began as Justice of the Peace in Kernville. He was also elected to County Supervisor in 1948, and was instrumental in establishing a four year college in the County and keeping a minimum of 50,000 acre feet in Lake Isabella.
Probably the single most important thing in Ardis Walker's life, besides his wife, Gayle, was his love of poetry. From an early age he wrote poetry. A prolific and important poet, his work includes Sierra Nevada Sequence, Love Harvest and West from Manhattan.
His most significant work as an author was the Rough and the Righteous of the Kern River Diggins, but there were many other fine writings. Most apparent in his work was his optimism combined with his love of the Kern River Valley and its people.
In 1951, Ardis and Gayle Walker built their home in Kernville and opened the Kernville Inn. He was the first president of the Kernville Business Association, the predecessor of the Kernville Chamber of Commerce. He and Gayle recommended the name "Whiskey Flat Days" for a historical celebration they had endorsed for many years. One of his favorite organizations was the Death Valley Forty-Niners. He was one of the founders and became president in 1952.
An avid conservationist, Ardis and Gayle Walker were responsible for the Wilderness Act, which was signed by President Carter on February 24, 978. This act resulted in the Golden Trout Wilderness and other wilderness areas in the Southern Sierra. Ardis considered this to be his and Gayle's most significant achievement.
Gayle passed away in 1988, after living what Ardis called, "...a long life of love." Ardis Walker died on January 19, 1991, after having lived a very successful, exemplary life as a cultivated man, loving husband and outstanding citizen.
Their estate bequeathed their Kernville home, now referred to as the Walker House, to USC for the faculty members to use during sabbaticals. The Kern River Valley Historical Society may conduct tours, maintains the house and the furnishings and has the option to buy it if USC sells it.