JOLIET – Don Walden, one of Will County's leading advocates for veterans causes, died Saturday,
Walden, 86, was active in veterans organizations, served in local government and was one of the people involved in the formation of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
"He's been here since we opened," said Christine Gutzeit, program manager at the cemetery. "He's done numerous support efforts for the cemetery. He was instrumental in getting the Lincoln statue. He's going to be greatly missed at the cemetery."
A life-sized statue of Lincoln was erected at the cemetery last year, a project that Walden and other veterans had worked on for many years raising $150,000.
"That was his crown jewel," said Jack Picciolo, chairman of the Will County Veterans Assistance Commission. "Just about any veterans issue in Joliet for I don't know how many ears, he was working on."
Walden was a familiar figure at ceremonies at the cemetery. He was a leading organizer of Veterans Day ceremonies at the Will County Courthouse each year.
He served in the Navy during the Korean War.
In a 2014 interview with The Herald-News about treatment of veterans in past years, when they were not always honored as they are today, Walden repeated the often heard description of the Korean War as the "forgotten war." But he did not complain.
“Personally, I got a great country to serve,” he said. “The government doesn’t owe me anything for my service.”
Walden was commander of American Legion Post 1080 several times.
He was among group of veterans who led the project to build a new Post 1080 on Ingalls Avenue after a fire destroyed the old building, said Marvin Balsley, chairman of the post.
When he was not serving as commander, Walden typically held another position at the post, Balsley said.
"He really lived and breathed 1080," he said.
Walden was an elected trustee on the Troy Township board for more than 30 years.
He was sworn into office at his home just two weeks ago at a special ceremony after being re-elected to the township board, said Troy Township Supervisor Joe Baltz.
"He was so proud even though he was sick at the end," said Baltz. "He put on his township shirt, and he was excited that we were there."
Until his last weeks, Baltz said, Walden was known for his energy, which he would display at township activities like shredding events where he volunteered.
"We always called him the Duracell Bunny," Baltz said. "He would never slow down. It was go, go, go."
Walden was an advocate for township government, Baltz said, and was awarded Township Trustee of the Year in 2015 by the Township Officials of Illinois.
He was involved in numerous other organizations and is a past chairman of Will County Project Pride, according to his obituary.
"He was just a wonderful guy," said Jeffrey Dames at Fred C. Dames Funeral Home & Crematory, which is handling Walden's services.
Dames said Walden was among a contingent of veterans who regularly showed up to conduct prayer services for veterans during visitations at the funeral home.
"I don't want to say he was there every time, but it was darn close," Dames said.
Services will be Thursday at Grace United Methodist Church, 1718 Avalon Ave., Joliet. Visitation will be at 9:30 a.m. with a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Inurnment with honors will follow at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.