An Extraordinary Life: Joliet man was in tune with music, family
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent October 20, 2013 4:20PM
Virgil Walton | Supplied photo
Updated: November 22, 2013 6:18AM
Virgil Walton was a kind and gentle man, one who valued education and the hard work and self-sacrifice necessary to raise a loving family and be in a solid, 63-year marriage, according to those who knew him.
But it was Virgil’s love of music that wove through his family and connected them to each other. This “Illinois Songbird” studied voice at the former Joliet Conservatory of Music, participated in an Aurora opera company and sang in the choir at Second Baptist Church of Joliet for 67 years, as well as for weddings and special events.
“He even sang for Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement in the 1960s,” said Shirley Walton, Virgil’s wife. “He sang ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.’ That was Martin’s favorite song, and he autographed it for my husband. He treasured it.”
Shirley clearly recalls the day she met Virgil: Aug. 24, 1949. She was living in Pennsylvania with her family and had come to Joliet to visit a cousin, who introduced Shirley to Virgil when they took a walk to his house on Water Street.
“I liked him because he was such a beautiful person, very gentlemanly, kind and intelligent with wonderful manners,” Shirley said. “He wanted something out of life, I could tell that. Education was key in the Walton household.”
Virgil attended Roosevelt University in Chicago for three years until he no longer could afford to continue. He spent the next 41 years working for Reynolds Aluminum as a casting operator.
“He valued marriage, was good to his children and stressed the importance of a good education,” Shirley said. “He spent time with the kids and we raised them in the church. We had a good run but we could not have done it without faith.”
When Virgil was not working, he taught his sons how to hunt and fish and he took his entire family on vacations they still talk about, Shirley said.
Virgil filled his home with books — he regularly read the Bible — and had low tolerance for grammar mistakes, Shirley said.
The success of Virgil’s children speaks of his results.
“My oldest son Virgil is a minister in Carbondale. He also just retired from nuclear medicine,” Shirley said. “Darnell is a social worker in Colorado, and my daughter (Marsha) is a teacher in Colorado.”
At home, Virgil played recordings of cantatas — his favorite was “Seven Last Words” — and operas; his family wore out two copies of “Porgy and Bess” singing the songs together. It was a terrible irony that a stroke two years before his Aug. 29 death at 87 stole Virgil’s voice.
Virgil’s family, however, surprised him with the musical send-off that seeming fitting. During his final moments, they joined hands and sang his favorite hymn, “To God be the Glory.” At one point, Darnell noticed Virgil was crying, Shirley said.
“He wrote a poem about it,” Shirley said, “called, ‘I Wiped a Tear from His Eye.’ ”
To nominate someone to be featured in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.