Mountain Home, Arkansas
Rural America is filled with inspiring people and inspiring stories, none more so than Hal and Gail Walter, first generation farmers who moved from New Jersey to Arkansas to start a small farm and create a life better suited to their exceptional son, Raymond.
One of the Walters’ three children, Ray has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease with physical symptoms that now require him to use a wheelchair. Ray is far more than his disease, though: he is an extraordinary young man with an incredible IQ.
Hal and Gail recognized Ray’s special gifts at an early age. “When I began discussing algebra with a six-year-old, I realized Raymond was pretty special,” Hal says. As they considered Ray’s needs, they felt there had to be a better place to raise their children and began searching for another place to live. Hal was also interested in farming, which brought them to Arkansas in 2005. Finding a wheelchair accessible home on a farm limited their options, but working with Farm Credit of Western Arkansas, they were able to purchase a suitable home sitting on 163 acres.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible to buy a farm this size,” says Hal. “This property fit our needs, so Farm Credit made it work for us.” The farm, which also is supported by Farm Credit financing, has since grown to nearly 500 acres.
“Ray is one of the most inspirational people I’ve met. I’m proud that Farm Credit worked to ensure we could make the financing happen for the farm the family wanted when they moved to AR,” said Assistant Vice President Dan Benton, the Walter family’s loan officer.
Ray graduated from Mountain Home High School at age 14. To enable Ray to attend college, Hal drove him three hours to Fayetteville every Monday morning during the school year and lived in the dorm with him four nights a week, providing personal care assistance around the clock. That commitment paid off. Ray earned a triple degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in mathematics, physics and economics in 2013 at the age of 18. He has continued his studies and will complete a Ph.D. in physics at the end of 2018 with plans to complete a Ph.D. in mathematics in 2019. Hal was recognized with the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Honorary Alumni Award in 2014 for being such a “supportive parent extraordinaire.”
He received a five-year research fellowship from the National Science Foundation upon entering graduate school and recently completed a prestigious one-year appointment with the Department of Energy. His research uses supercomputers to design nanomaterials for next-generation optical and electronic technologies.
In addition to his academic pursuits, Ray plays an integral role on the family farm. While his dad now farms full-time, in addition to acting as Ray’s primary caregiver, Ray serves as the chief financial officer and participates in all business decisions and planning. Gail also helps manage the farm operation and works full-time as a nurse anesthetist, besides also helping with Ray’s care.
The Walters' two other children, Emily and Ron, both graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and have moved away to pursue their respective careers. They still come home regularly to help with Ray's care, the farm, and their many dogs.
Every member of the Walter family is committed to each other, of course, but most of all to helping their exceptional family member, Ray, excel academically and achieve his dreams. The Walters are also committed to their legacy as productive stewards of their own farm and their local community, most notably through the FFA. They are proudly entering their fourth year of sponsoring the Raymond Walter Family Scholarship, which they founded to recognize an outstanding graduating senior each year from the Mountain Home FFA chapter with a four-year scholarship.