Letitia “Letty” Walter is a legend in Southern Indiana and for good reason.
By Josh Suiter | Photo by David Harrison
From educating chiLdren, to starting sports programs for girls and women in our area and even being a public servant, Letitia “Letty” Walter has left her mark on the Southern Indiana community.
Walter, who launched the BPW Hoosiers, a women’s softball team from New Albany, has made it her goal to empower children and adults.
The BPW Hoosiers, who were sponsored by Business and Professional Women, went to seven world tournaments in slow pitch. They traveled all over the country. “My girls were good. They represented Louisville in those tournaments. They won the championship in Louisville like seven years, and people couldn’t understand when they would announce us and they would say ‘Representing the Great Commonwealth of Kentucky, the City of Louisville – the BPW Hoosiers.’ “
Walter started the team in the 1950s and retired as their coach in the 70s. “I had three teams: the Big Hoosiers, Middle Hoosiers and the Baby Hoosiers. It was kind of like a farm system to go through. We groomed them. They were mostly kids that I met with on playgrounds in New Albany.”
Walter said the girls, as she called them, wanted something to do and “it was good for me because I had my pick of the crop.”
Walter got the team started while she worked for the New Albany Floyd County Parks Department. “I was a teacher during the winter time, and in the summer I was blessed to be hired by Mr. Sam Peden and worked with the New Albany Floyd County Parks system.”
Peden let her create the softball team.
“They also let me organize girls activities. We were before Title IX and there was nothing for girls to do. That is why I was lucky when I did get my softball program going. … The girls did very well. We still meet and I still call them girls, even though they are all grandmothers,” she quipped.
Walter even got drafted by the boys’ coach one night to play on their team. “One night they were short a player and they drafted me. That was my first and last time playing baseball because when I got up to bat, they threw a curve ball at me and I thought I would die. It is a lot different from baseball and slow pitch. The only reason I did it was (the coach) made good peach ice cream and after the game we all got homemade peach ice cream,” she added.
Walter worked for a few years in Louisville for the Louisville Parks Department as a play leader in Central Park before coming to New Albany.
Although she eventually became a teacher, it wasn’t what she thought she would do. She had planned to be a dental technician, but one of her teachers, Sister Ellen Patrick, intervened and sent in an application for her to attend Nazareth College and study education. “She knew me better than I did,” said Walter. “(My career) would have been a technical career, but thanks to Sister Ellen Patrick, I did what she said.”
Walter taught second and fourth grades for 36 years before retiring in 1993 from St. Mary of the Knobs.
“When I first got to St. Mary’s of Knobs, I coached the boys’ basketball. It was a bunch of nuns and lay teachers. Then, we got some male teachers and I just coached the girls in volleyball, basketball, kickball, softball and track.”
Walter said Bob Holmes, who was superintendent of New Albany Floyd County Schools then, let her start athletics for girls “because we didn’t have it. I started basketball, volleyball and track for elementary school. I had 15 elementary schools to oversee and, of course, finding a coach for girls wasn’t easy.”
Many women “didn’t play ball and didn’t know how to coach, but they tried.” Walter also assisted with the annual Chicago trip. “Oh my gosh, what a great a trip. We stayed at The Palmer House and went to museums. It was wonderful for the kids.”
During one particular experience, a boy got separated from the group. “We took the kids for a ride on the elevated train. The car trains were fascinating because the car doors open and closed so quickly. We would get to platform and people would get off and on. We had one little boy who just couldn’t believe it, and when the door opened, he stepped out onto the platform and the door closed and the train took off, and there he was all by himself on the platform. Thankfully, all of our kids wore badges that said, ‘New Albany Floyd County Schools Education System,’ and there was a policeman, and the policeman saw what happened and took the child to the police station. Then they took him to Palmer House safe and sound. “Those kind of memories you don’t want to live through. I always said my biggest mistake was not writing a book about some of the things that happened and some of the people (I have met),” she said.
Walter is a graduate of Presentation Academy and the old Nazareth College (now Spalding University), and has an elementary education degree from there, as well as a master’s degree from Indiana University. “I am still very close to Presentation Academy. In fact, I am still on the alumni board and go to meetings and support them in any way I can.”
Walter, a lifelong member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Albany, said she is a reader in her church, as well as a greeter and on the bereavement committee. She’s also in the Altar Society, which plans the Spring Fling and the church’s annual yard sale.
Clearly, Walter also believes in giving back to her community. She has served on the Horseshoe Foundation Board, served on the Floyd County Council for one term and as a New Albany city councilwoman for three terms.
She also is a Democratic precinct committee person. “We still get together to elect the head of the party and the officers, and if you have to fill a seat, we chose who that will be,” she said.
Walter served on the Floyd County Head Start Board when it first got going and serves on the board for the Senior Games. She has also served on the on the animal shelter Board. “I have met a lot of nice people with all the stuff I am involved in. You don’t get bored,” she said.
After she retired, she took the training to be a dealer at Horseshoe Southern Indiana. “I took the training for four months. I dealt for six weeks before the smoke about killed me, and I had to quit. I loved it,” she recalled.
Walter also worked for about six weeks at UPS right before Christmas. “I was in International Small Sort because I knew geography and that was an experience working with those kids at UPS. You had to have steel-toed shoes. I had the midnight to 4 a.m. shift, so I used to go to Waffle House for breakfast on the way home. I was bored. I discovered I better concentrate on taking care of my house and learning how to cook, which I haven’t done too well.”
When she is not giving of her time, Walter loves to play golf. “Golf is one of those sports for a lifetime. The kids can play and so can grandma. You can go on nice vacations and play. That is what occupies my time now. I am just anxiously waiting for it to get warm enough so I can play.”
Her work in the county has also led to a park in Floyds Knobs to be named after her, Letty Walter Park, which is down the road from St. Mary of the Knobs school. “I couldn’t believe when the park board did that. I was still teaching and one of the kids went home and said, ‘Mommy, mommy! Guess what? They named a park after Mrs. Walter and she ain’t even dead yet.’ ”
While still teaching, Walter would take her students to the park. “They would wade in the creek and look for critters, and I would worry about them falling in and drowning. They would play on swings,” she recalled. Walter still enjoys visiting the park. “I get out there a lot and I sit and look at it. I just can’t believe it is there and a lot of people take their kiddos there to play.
The park, plus the naming of my niece after me, are the two greatest honors I have ever received,” she said. Walter lives her life by two quotes. The first she saw in Presentation when she walked into her classroom: “Love God, and then do what you want.”
After seeing that, “I thought, boy, I am going to like this place. Then as I went through my training at Pres, I caught on to the meaning of the quote. Because if you love God, you will do what God wants.” The second is a quote by Cardinal Ritter: “Work hard, pray hard, don’t worry.”
“That is a good quote to live by,” Walter said.