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In memoriam: Community mourns Walt Scott, justice activist and volunteer

Walter Scott is pictured in 2005 talking with youth after a preview showing of “A Healing Walk” at Bemidji High School. “A Healing Walk” is a half-hour documentary inspired by the two-day Healing Walk held in support of the Red Lake Nation.

BEMIDJI – Walter Scott, who helped establish the local Habitat for Humanity and spent his life fighting for social justice, died Tuesday at the age of 87.

Scott, a retired minister with the United Church of Christ, once marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and joined the peace movement during the Nicaraguan Contra War in the 1980s.

“He was very passionate about justice issues and the people involved,” said Rev. Gay Albers, pastor at Bemidji United Methodist Church. “In the last year, as I visited with him, he would tell me … ‘I can’t get out and go to protests anymore. I can’t get out and go to meetings. But what I can do is, I can write letters.”

Scott wrote about 30 letters a month on behalf of Amnesty International, Albers said, hoping that his “words of hope” would affect someone wrongly incarcerated or convince a person in power to recognize their wrong-doings.

Rosanna Walker, a retired UCC pastor who got to know Scott after she moved to Bemidji, said he was one of the most spiritual men she’s known.

“To be in his presence is to really feel the love of Christ,” she said. “I always felt I was in the presence of someone really special.”

Scott and his wife, Rachel, who died in September 2009, moved to Bemidji 22 years ago after he retired from the ministry in Grand Forks, N.D.

Scott was active in his church, the BUMC, and volunteered in a variety of community roles through Meals on Wheels, Bemidji Community Food Shelf, Bemidji Soup Kitchen, Bemidji Race Relations Council and the Beltrami County Indian Inmate Ministry Committee.

“He was such a gentle person; he was so caring,” said Karen Bedeau, a former member of the Race Relations Council. “He was always so concerned and so focused on doing things in a positive way, wanting to do things to make our community more encompassing of people.”

Paul Welle, also a former Race Relations member, said Scott was active in numerous activities, including planning for a first-time homeowner’s seminar and job fair.

“Once he was no longer able to come to our meetings and participate, there really was an empty chair at our table,” Bedeau said. “We really missed him.”

The Habitat for Humanity ReStore was dedicated in 2007 in honor of the Scotts as The Walter and Rachel Scott Center as a tribute to their many years of service.

“(Scott) was a huge part of getting Habitat started here in Bemidji,” said Geri Hickerson, executive director of the Northwoods Habitat for Humanity.

He organized several fundraising events for Habitat and volunteered in any way he could, she said. Two years ago, when Habitat hosted its Women Build, Scott brought everyone lunch.

He also attended all of the home dedications, she noted.

“His was the voice you could hear singing above everyone else,” Hickerson said, “because he was so excited to help get another family into a new home.”

The Grand Forks Herald reported Scott was a Wisconsin native who started his social-justice work with campus ministries at the University of Michigan in the 1940s. During the 1980s, while ministering at the Federated Church in Grand Forks, he worked with local and regional groups against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In October 1988, Scott received the North Dakota Prairie Peacemaker Award “for outstanding efforts on peace, disarmament and social justice issues,” the Herald reported.

The local Habitat chapter writes in the ReStore dedication that Scott was awarded in 1990 with the Governor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award for his involvement with peace and justice issues.

“Walt was someone who didn’t discriminate between people at all,” Albers said. “He approached each person as a unique, important person and would take time to hear people and build relationships with people…

“He will be missed, but in some sense, because of the way he loved and connected with the people in this community, he’s still here.

“The good things that he and Rachel have done, we have all been changed by our contact with them, in their building a community of health and love and healing.”