Born on Marco: Bob Walker began life on the island in 1921

Lance Shearer

Bob Walker was almost certainly the first birth of the year on Marco Island – in 1921.

On Jan. 6, 1921, Walker was born on Marco Island, to James Roscoe and Lenora Josephine Walker. The Walkers were one of a handful of pioneer families who called the remote barrier island home at that point, and Robert was their fourth child.

Walker, who is now Robert Walker Sr., having named his son Robert Jr. after himself, is also presumably the oldest Marco Island native still living. His family moved from Marco Island, which at the time could be reached only by boat, when Bob was five years old, relocating to Naples.

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Robert Walker Sr., born on Marco Island in 1921, plays with a son and an alligator in this undated photo. He celebrated his 98th birthday on Sunday, Jan. 6 at his home in Cross City, Florida.

Bob’s father James took an active role in area history, serving as an operator for the Bay City dredging rig that now sits at Collier-Seminole State Park, and was used to build the Tamiami Trail across to Miami.

“My daddy dredged the Trail on the Naples side,” said Robert, Sr., reached by phone ahead of his birthday, adding his own father was born in the Arcadia area. Following in his father’s muddy footprints, Bob operated a dragline to dig the canals that created Aqualane Shores in Naples, developed by his uncle Forest Walker, as well as Little Hickory Shores in Bonita Springs. Forest’s son Lorenzo Walker was the namesake for Lorenzo Walker Technical High School in East Naples.

Growing up, he worked many additional jobs including fisherman, carpentry, operating heavy equipment, and crewing the “run boat,” delivering ice and food and collecting the catch from fishing crews of Naples’ Storter Fish Company operating out of Lostman’s River in the Ten Thousand Islands.

According to Robert Walker Jr., there were so many Robert Walkers in the community at the time that confusion reigned.

“There were a lot of Walkers with the first name Robert. For a long time, my dad was called Arnold,” he said. The two Robert Walkers got together Sunday at Robert Sr.’s home in Cross City, Florida, on the west coast opposite Gainesville. All the other siblings have passed away, except for one brother who still lives in Ave Maria, said Robert Jr.

Robert Walker Sr., on his birthday Sunday with his son Robert Jr. Born on Marco Island in 1921, he celebrated his 98th birthday on Sunday, Jan. 6 at his home in Cross City, Florida.

His father was also known as “Doc,” because he could fix anything, he said. Bob Sr. used those mechanical skills to build a flathead Ford V-8 swamp buggy that, after two earlier failed attempts, won him the title of Swamp Buggy King at the swamp buggy races in 1956.

Robert Walker Sr. and his wife Inez had seven children. One of them, Ricky Walker, vanished in Collier County in 1993, and despite lengthy investigations by the sheriff’s office, his fate is unknown to this day, said Bob Jr. Bob Sr. and Inez, who died in 2000, raised Ricky’s two children after his disappearance.

The Jan. 6 birthday of Robert Walker, Sr. is shared with another Marco Island pioneer, Herb Savage, who although he was two years older than Walker, was not born on Marco, didn’t come there until the 1960s, and moved to Marco with his wife Emily and family in 1978. Savage was instrumental in turning Marco into the fully developed community you see today. But when Walker lived here, the island was still largely wild, with mangrove estuaries and sandy pine uplands, where homes and condominiums stand today, said Curtis Bostwick, now 83 years old, who was also born on Marco Island, in 1938, and still lives here.

“There used to be a lot of agriculture on Marco,” said Bostwick, “with two clam canneries operating and a pineapple farming operation. But the clams disappeared, and after 1910, the railroad came through and pineapples from Cuba flooded the market.”

Hard of hearing at 98 and with his mobility diminished after a fall, Robert Walker Sr. has 24-hour care at his manufactured home in the little town of Cross City. Asked what he would like for his birthday, he responded, “a small car,” to visit his family members. “Most everyone is gone somewhere, or just gone.”

His favorite thing in life, he said, was “women,” and in response to the question everyone is asked upon attaining a certain age, he said he attributed his longevity to “living a good life – I didn’t do no whisky till I was teenage.”

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