SPENCER CO., IN (WFIE) - For two years, Ken Walton spent most days sitting in his yard waving as cars passed by on S.R. 66 near Luce Elementary in Spencer County.
He always waved with two fingers, held in the shape of a “V”.
“For the war, World War II, you know. ‘V for Victory'. That's why he did that,” explained his granddaughter, Elizabeth Geisert.
Elizabeth says her grandfather suffered from dementia and heart trouble. At 87 years old, he tried not to let those struggles keep him from getting outside when the weather was nice.
"In the summertime it was almost like a religion that he was here," said Luce Township Fire Chief Todd Daming. “Nice to see an old fella just enjoying what's going on in the world."
He, “always had a smile on his face with a big wave,” said Rita Tharp, a longtime school bus driver who always looked forward to passing Ken's house.
"Even if he had a bad day, he couldn't remember anything, or he was having trouble remembering stuff, he would just come out here and sit and just wave at people. You know, it made him happy," said Elizabeth, “People would stop, sometimes people would stop and talk to him and he loved it. He loved talking to people.”
She says Ken especially loved when the school buses full of kids came by. He also had a great respect for first responders.
“When the fire trucks came through he gave us an extra little tip (of the hat) like he was just so proud that we were helping the country. One of those things that he gave us a little extra tip of the hat that just made us feel like somebody appreciated what we did,” Todd said.
“People would stop, sometimes people would stop and talk to him and he loved it. He loved talking to people,” said Elizabeth.
Two weeks ago, Ken had a stroke. He passed away, but his memory is still very strong in the minds of many who saw him when they drove by.
To let them know what happened, Ken's family put a black ribbon in the empty chair he so often used.
“When we saw this black bow and everything that's came here, we knew pretty well that he was gone," said Todd.
"I actually was driving the bus that afternoon and had tears running down my face," Rita recalled.
Rita was one of many who stopped by Ken's home to leave a memento at a makeshift memorial, a yellow bear.
“This is a bear that's got a school bus on it… it represents the bus drivers. Since we came past every day honking morning and afternoon, we just wanted to let him know we cared about him,” Rita said.
She still honks when she passes Ken's chair.
“I wish I would have stopped, introduced myself to him. But I didn't. But that's ok, because he's in my heart,” Rita said, holding back tears.
She'd never talked to Ken and didn't know his name until after he passed. But she says his small acts of kindness every day meant a lot to her.
“I really didn't know him personally, but he did effect my life in a different way. I'll never forget, never forget.”
Before watching the traffic on a busy two-lane road became his favorite pastime, Ken, originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky, worked as an electrician. He retired from Alcoa.
“He loved to tinker. He had been tinkering since he was a small kid. He'd go to the junkyard and bring home a box of junk and just tinker with it, just take it apart, look at it,” Elizabeth explained.
Ken married his wife Opal in 1948. They eventually moved to Owensboro, then Newburgh and Rockport.
They had three children,
Don, David, and Becky.
Elizabeth says growing up, her grandfather was always trying to teach her things.
“He was so smart. He knew so much stuff,” she said, “If we were going somewhere in the car, he'd be like, ‘Do you know what you're going to do if a car comes at you? How would you handle that?'”
“Grandad and I would sit for hours and play Scrabble. And he said, ‘Use a dictionary. That way you can learn new words.' And I did.”
Sometimes Elizabeth would sit with her “Grandad” as he waved.
“We'd sit and talk and then sometimes we would just sit here, you know, and wave at people. We'd look at the sky for the jets going by, seeing where they were going, how many were out there. We'd look at the corn when it was planted and say, ‘Well, that corn looks good today' or ‘It looks like it needs some more rain. It's some of the best memories I have of Grandad is just sitting with him and just being with him,” she said.
Elizabeth had no idea how many lives her grandfather touched and was surprised when the flowers, balloons and other mementos started showing up by his chair.
"I cried when I found out about it, you know. I couldn't believe it. That many people knew, knew Grandad and waved at him everyday. It was amazing," Elizabeth said.
Many drivers continue to honk when they pass Ken's chair. All the kind gestures prompted Elizabeth and her husband Billy to brave the rain Tuesday morning to return the favor. They put up homemade signs saying, “Thanks for honking” and held one saying “In Memory of Grandad”.
Then they sat and waved, giving Ken's signature “V for Victory” salute.
"I wanted to honor his memory. I wanted to thank everybody for doing this. It's like, you know, part of him's going on," said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth thinks the smiling and waving was her grandfather's final lesson.
“Just sitting out here and just telling people to slow down. Hey, you know, just slow down and smell the roses and look at everything and see how great life is. Don't be in such a hurry,” she explained.
“Hopefully people will learn to be kinder to other people,” said Rita, “He will be truly missed.”
“He would never have believed that he had touched this many people,” Elizabeth said.
Ken donated his body to IU Medical. A teacher, even in death.
“He told me he wanted to do that so people could learn from him and possibly cure diseases from what they learned from him,” Elizabeth said.
If you know of someone like Ken who is doing something to make their Hometown Proud, email