The Olga Walker Story

In 1964, the Duluth Public Library was notified that one of its regular visitors, Olga Walker, had died and left the library in her will. In fact, Mrs. Walker’s will identified the library as her sole beneficiary. The library was to receive a bequest of more than $50,000.

Library Director Lucille Roemer told the Duluth News Tribune that she “did not know Mrs. Walker,” and that there had been no indication why she left her estate to the library. But, she added, “It is a splendid gift, and the library is most happy to be the recipient of such a large sum.”

Mrs. Walker’s will specified that her money be held in trust for 21 years, allowing the interest earnings to be given to the library. After that, the Library Board could decide what to do with the gift.

In 1986, the Library Board voted that Mrs. Walker’s gift, valued at $83,000 at the time, become the seed money for an endowment to benefit the library in perpetuity, and created the Duluth Library Foundation to manage and grow it. Today, thanks to the contributions of hundreds of library supporters and thoughtful stewardship, that gift has increased to over $2 million.

Little is known about Mrs. Walker. She was born Olga Thompson in Winneshiek County, Iowa, one of three children. Her parents had emigrated from Norway. Olga came to Minnesota with her family as a teenager. She married Clarence Walker, who was originally from Missouri, and they lived in Duluth. Olga was a stenographer for the Army Corps of Engineers. Clarence was a clerk for Kelley-How-Thompson Company, as well as a member of the Order of Scottish Clans in Duluth. They had no children.

What is known is that Mrs. Walker loved the library. Each year the Foundation hosts the Olga Walker Awards & Author event, honoring donors who, like Mrs. Walker, have generously supported the library’s life-changing work. This event is also an opportunity to provide our community the opportunity to engage with an author whose work inspires, educates, and entertains. Past honorees include:

Arthurand Mary Aufderheide
Gilbert Harries
Charles House

Robert and Ruth Ann Eaton
Thomas and Katherine Gibson
Elisabeth C. Mason
Janet Schroeder

John and Elaine Killen
Robert and Ann Mars
Walter and Alyce Rauschenfels

Royal and Karen Alworth
Muriel Cowan
Beverly Ellstrom
Esther Linden

Ellen Marsden
Nathaniel and Melody Rowe
Don and Sally Schilling

Wayne Holmberg
Janet Sklaris
Katharine Coventry

John and Beth Kelly
Dean Casperson and family
Margaret Orlich
Monnie and Lillian Goldfine

Karen Alworth, Esther Linden, and Royal Alworth, 2019 recipients of the Olga Walker Memorial Award.