Mary Frances Varnado Walden

Walden, Mary Frances Varnado

Mary Frances Varnado Walden moved from rural Pike County, Mississippi to Urbana, Illinois with her parents and brother, William. Her parents had a mission for a better life, both educationally and economically. She married Frederic Logan Walden, a 23-year veteran of the United States Air Force, who served as Council Member for the Third Ward and Mayor pro tem, City of Urbana. He also became Director of Purchasing at Carle Foundation Hospital upon his retirement from the Air Force. Together, they had two sons: Frederic Earle Walden, an honor student with a Bachelor's degree from the U of I in Clinical Psychology, and Leslie Logan Walden, who received his degree in Government from the University of Wisconsin and is currently working in San Diego, CA at the Office of the Public Defender. She also has three grandchildren, Frederic Blake Walden, Maya Nicole Walden and Travis Logan Walden.

Mary received a Bachelor's, Master's, and Advanced Degree from the University of Illinois. She has remarked that she was fortunate to have received her student teacher training under the skillful guidance of Mae Hawkins, the first African-American teacher-principal at Lawhead School, Champaign: “She was a person of courage, compassion and commitment - a catalyst for all young people who knew her.”

She taught at Champaign Unit #4 Schools as an elementary school teacher until her retirement. She was also a Cooperating Teacher with U of I. “My concern and devotion to my students were total. They were encouraged to challenge the sometimes unfair conditions of life and to press forward toward the goals that could be theirs.”

Mary was the co-founder of Operation Excellence at Salem Baptist Church. She was also a charter member of Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Most recently, she became active in the African-American Genealogical Society and the Champaign County African American History Committee of the Early American Museum.

Mary credits her parents for her successes: “If I have made contributions in life, I must give thanks to my parents, Ishmael and Elizabeth McKinley Varnado.”