| Coach Phil Walden and his wife Carol|
(photo courtesy Waldon family)
A beloved track coach and teacher with more than 50 years of working with area kids, Phil Walden's memorial service, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, was a moving event.
The celebration of life at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, was followed by an open-mike gathering at the Center for Self Enhancement.
Founder of the Albina Sports Program and the Albina Road Runners Track Club, Walden touched the lives of thousands of youth. He passed away Monday, Aug. 22, from cancer.
To continue his legacy, friends and supporters are launching the Phil Walden Scholarship, as well as annual sports events. Contributions can be made at Albina Community Bank in the name of Coach Phil Walden, or online at www.coachphilwaldenfund.com.
"A lot of people who are professional in this community got their start with him," said Leon McKenzie Jr., head track coach at Benson High School. "Most people who work with kids now want to make money doing it – he gave money. And all of his time, and all of his resources, consistently, for a long time."
Walden is especially remembered as giving his time to work with kids from all area schools – inner North and Northeast as well as Gresham high schools where so many families have been scattered to over the years.
McKenzie, who along with his wife Grace is working to publicize the memorial services, says Walden sacrificed his own family time to make sure every kid who wanted it was able to participate in sports.
"I was one of the kids who he used to come by in his wrecked station wagon, and pick up and take to meets and keep you out of trouble, when I was just living with my dad and on the borderline of getting in trouble.
"And I've been the head track coach at Benson for 26 years and he came along for the last 20 years helping me out with my kids at Benson," McKenzie said. "We want people to know how great he was."
"He didn't do it alone – he and his wife together, Carol was right there beside him," Grace said, adding the Walden's entire family was gracious in sharing his time with so many other children and youths.
"I would just say Coach Walden saved lives," McKenzie said. "I would say surely he saved the lives of many individuals, and myself included."
"He never wanted any praise for it, he never wanted any attention, he always wanted to stay in the background," McKenzie says."But now since he's gone on, we want to put him out front where he belongs."
Grace and Leon McKenzie, Jr.
Musical guest Linda Hornbuckle highlighted the memorial services, and a slate of speakers as well as video clips re-told Walden's life and dedication to young people across the metro area since the 1960s.
"I just think the impact he had on many young people across the community for this long needs to be celebrated," McKenzie says.
"He was happy if somebody graduated from high school, made it through college and then gave something back.
"So it was about sports, but in the end, it was about using sports as a vehicle to reach your full potential as a person. I think that's what he did so well," McKenzie said.