Community mourns passing of Southside’s ‘Mom’

Clarissa Walker under the watchful eye of son Bret Rogers Photo courtesy of the family)

Clarissa Mae Rogers Walker’s home-going celebration was held Monday at Sabathani Community Center. She died March 7 at age 80.

As expected, many paid their last respects to a woman who spent over five decades serving her community. “She wasn’t a wealthy person, but she created a lot of wonderful memories for a lot of people,” said one of her five sons, Vann Rogers.

After moving to Minneapolis in 1955 with her first daughter Karon (now deceased) to work as a surgical nurse at the University of Minnesota and North Memorial Hospitals, Walker also provided the community with a great wealth of dedication and wisdom. “She’s the most selfless woman I’ve ever known,” said her second-oldest daughter Sara Rogers of her mother. “It was never about her.”

While raising six children, Walker also earned a sociology degree from the University of Minnesota. Her passion and love for her community eventually led her to Sabathani Church in 1969 as a volunteer working with youth. There she initiated a program to help families that later became the Sabathani Community Center Family Resource Program.

A founding board member, president, and chair of several executive committees of the Southside Neighborhood Housing Service, Walker helped administer home loans and grants to thousands of families.  She tirelessly advocated for the community and met with several U.S. presidents and congressional officers as a 25-year board member of the National Housing Reinvestment, often testifying to U.S. House or Minnesota House committees.

Walker also launched a free tax preparation program for low-income families in 1979, which grew into what is now called AccountAbility Minnesota. She was involved in numerous programs, including the Project for Pride in Living, Central Neighborhood Improvement Association, the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee to the Mayor, the Lake Street Partners Board, and the Minnesota Extension Advisory Committee.

Sara said her mother didn’t look for accolades. “There were so many programs that she was actually involved in and was the catalyst on getting them going. It’s quite often that she didn’t get the recognition.”
“I talked to a lot of the elders from the community,” said Vann, “and they would say that they don’t make [people like Clarissa] anymore.” Both siblings knew that their mother was important, but only after they reached adulthood did they truly realize and appreciate Clarissa Walker’s special value to the community.

“We always knew that our mother was a great woman,” said Vann. “I didn’t really realize…how great she really was. Everybody called her ‘Mom.’”
In her lifetime, Walker not only saw a Black man elected president, but also saw one of her daughters, Neva Walker, elected as the state’s first Black female legislator. “She definitely knew that Neva was about to do a lot of things that an ordinary person maybe wouldn’t be able to do or accomplish,” Sara pointed out. Since their mother encouraged all her children to get involved in community service, “It became natural for Neva to continue that service to others.”

Their mother “didn’t see color as a barrier or an excuse” in achieving or not achieving something, said Vann. “Her outlook was, ‘Let’s look at what we can do — we won’t worry about what we can’t do.’”
The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners formally recognized Walker’s achievements with a Clarissa Walker Day ceremony upon her retirement in 2007.

Sara Rogers calls her brother Bret, Clarissa’s second-youngest son, the family’s “hero” for helping their mother when her health began to fail her. “He was the primary caregiver for my mother,” she said proudly.

“He did everything for her and insisted that she would not go to a nursing home, not as long as he was living. Most people, including me, didn’t have the stamina that he had.”

As an appropriate epitaph for her mother, who lived her life by example, always willing to help others at a moment’s notice, Sara Rogers suggested Clarissa Walker’s favorite greeting whenever someone called her on the phone:
“How can I help?”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.