Ken Johnson has written at least 10 books and published thousands of newspapers, but there was one book that eluded him for years.
It was a bucket list book about Walter and Preston Walker, former owners and publishers of The Daily Sentinel.
“They put their fingerprints on everything decent in Grand Junction. They just loved their city. They never got rich. They put the money back to the Sentinel and into the city to make things happen,” Johnson said. It’s amazing, and they were proud to do it.”
With 11 file boxes filled with copies of The Daily Sentinel and an assortment of papers that belonged to the Walkers family, Johnson finally sat down to write in February. By May, the 23 chapters he wrote with co-author Carol Sullivan and several other contributors were ready for planning.
“Publishers: Walter and Preston Walker” is now ready for readers. Johnson, who was publisher of The Daily Sentinel from 1970 to 1979, will sign copies of “Publishers” at 11 a.m. Monday at the offices of The Daily Sentinel, 734 S. Seventh St. The book will be available for purchase on Sentinel.
“Publishers” 369 pages contains a wealth of historical photos and stories along with Johnson’s research and personal views.
“If you’re interested in the history of Grand Junction, Publishers is a great lens through which to view it. The Walkers were the titans of Grand Junction. I’m glad Ken decided to dig deep to tell their story,” said Jay Seton, the current publisher of Sentinel. “The book is part serious history, part intimate reflection from a man who was close to the topics.”
Johnson, 89, grew up in Grand Junction and started The Daily Sentinel in 1945 as a 12-year-old paper company. He later worked in the mailroom, cleaned the composition room, and worked weekends and summers in Preston Walker’s yard.
Johnson said he was in awe of Walter Walker, who was the publisher from 1911 to 1956, buying the newspaper in 1917.
“I didn’t know him very well,” Johnson said. “He said hello to me one day. I didn’t know how to say anything.”
Johnson was much closer to Preston Walker, who was “Bryce” to those who knew him. He was Sentinel’s publisher until his death in 1970. “I was practically the son of Bryce Walker,” Johnson said.
The younger Walker not only taught Johnson how to run rivers, but also shared the newspaper industry with Johnson as he began writing and editing. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a business administration degree, Johnson became the Sentinel office manager at Rifle.
Johnson continued to work at Sentinel, eventually making his way to general manager before succeeding Preston Walker as publisher and owner in 1970.
Johnson sold the Sentinel to Cox Newspapers in 1979 – the newspaper was purchased by Seaton Publishing Co. In 2009 – and he has had many careers and hobbies over the years, but his ties to Grand Junction remain strong and he lives in part of the valley-time.
Shortly after the unveiling of a “Grand Valley Legends” statue of Walter and Preston Walker on Main Street—Johnson was a member of the Legends Committee—he and Sullivan first discussed a book about pedestrians.
“They just disappear,” Johnson recalls telling Sullivan, a former Sentinel reporter.
He said it was a sentiment that partially drove his writing earlier this year, and examples of this “disappearance” can be seen in Walker’s name being replaced across town.
Walker’s name is used to decorate the Fine Arts Building at Mesa College. Walker Field Airport became Grand Junction Regional Airport. Johnson noted in his book that the football field at the University of Colorado Mesa, which was named Walker Field, a name supported by the Johnson family, is now Community Field in the Community Hospital.
The Walkers family’s contributions, such as their political leadership and writing, Walter Walker’s time as a U.S. Senator and his role in bringing Rotary International to the city, and their support for aviation, education, the arts, and more at Grand Junction, Johnson said, are lost to memory.
When they are remembered, Johnson said, they are unfortunately overshadowed by Walter Walker’s ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
He said that the nature of these links was based on lies, and it was another important reason for his book Publishers.
“My goal is really simple, and I hope the people in this chapter read it (Chapter 18) and understand that Walter Walker was flawless and that he takes credit for kicking the Klan out of town,” Johnson said.
In Chapter Eighteen, “Al Look,” Johnson writes about Alfred Locke, who worked at Sentinel for 36 years, many of them on The Walkers. He retired as advertising manager in 1960.
Johnson’s class narrows in a phone call he said Look received in 1975 from a doctoral student named Robert Goldberg. Goldberg was researching the klan in the 1920s and knew Look was a member.
Johnson said during that phone call, she gave a misinformed look about Walter Walker. It was information later published in Goldberg’s 1981 book, Hooded Empire.
“A lie has three parts,” Johnson said.
First, Look claimed that Walter Walker had brought the Klan into town.
Johnson asserts in his book that Walter Walker, a “tough Democrat,” did not. “It’s a joke,” he said.
Second, Look claimed that Walter Walker was only shaken by a Deputy Sheriff and Klan member for Sentinel’s attacks on the Klan.
But Johnson said there are reports and accounts that provide evidence that Walter Walker was badly beaten by the deputy mayor.
And third, Locke claimed that Preston Walker simply had a bicycle accident two weeks after his father’s accident.
The truth is that 13-year-old Preston Walker was also beaten up, Johnson said, but the incident didn’t get as covered in Sentinel as his father.
“The police asked – (the police) started to reform and get out of the Klan – just played it down. We don’t want to provoke something the Klan is taking revenge on a lot of people,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the incident with Preston Walker was underestimated even though he had amnesia due to a severe concussion and lifelong damage to one of his eyes.
Looking at Walter Walkers’ historical record, Johnson said, “There was not a single fault in him, in the guard, or in anything he had done except lie to the Lockes.” “I can’t figure out why (see) this. It doesn’t make sense, but he did. And it went ahead.”
He said it also led to Walter Walker’s writings and stances being overlooked in Sentinel against the Klan that in large part led to her being kicked out of Grand Junction.
“It is very significant because there are still some historians who have bought the Goldberg lie and the Locke lie that Walker is in charge of the Klan,” Johnson said. “In honesty to God, getting rid of this black spot from Walker’s history has become insane.”
The Publishers is about Walter and Preston Walker’s involvement and the influence they had in forming the Grand Junction.
“I hope this book will have a large audience at Grand Junction,” Johnson said.