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NIU mourns passing of Albert Walker

June 27, 2011
Albert Walker

Albert Walker

Albert Walker, who joined the NIU Journalism Department in January of 1968 and created its public relations sequence, died Wednesday, June 22, in DeKalb. He was 91.

Walker also founded and advised the PRSSA chapter from the late 1960s until his retirement in 1990. He later returned to teach part-time from 1995 to 1998.

He held degrees from Case Western Reserve University (Ph.D., 1969), Northwestern University (M.S.J., 1947) and Baker University (B.A., 1942).

His professional media experience began in 1943 as a reporter for the Mid Pacifican Edition of the Stars and Stripes. From 1945 to 1947, he worked as a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In 1947, he became director of public relations for Carthage College, where he also was a professor.

His arrival in DeKalb came after several years in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which he spent as university editor and director of the University Press at  Bowling Green State University, assistant to the president for public relations at Dickinson College and director of public relations at the University of Akron.

With the assistance of members of the Chicago chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, Walker developed the curriculum for NIU’s public relations sequence.

From his earliest days at NIU, Walker brought professional public relations directors into his classroom, both in person and via “tele-lectures” where their voices were heard over speaker phones with amplifiers attached.

“The lecturers give 20-minute presentations describing their organizations,” Walker said in a 1970 press release from the NIU News Bureau. “They speak about the PR mission and give information about their personal activities, describing a typical day in their job.”

In 1973, he launched an extension program in public relations for professional development in the Chicago area. In only its first two years, 200 students attained advanced degrees in journalism.

During the summer of 1974, Walker took that group to Honolulu for an intensive, three-week summer session course that examined the public relations implications of problems peculiar to the Hawaiian capital, including ethnic minorities, tourism, inflation and import-export.

(In 1981, he taught “Public Relations – Jamaica,” which concentrated on the PR practices of multi-national corporations in their governmental and community relations and in the promotion of tourism.)

By January of 1975, he developed another off-campus master’s degree program. Held in Barrington, the classes were primarily for school-based public relations professionals but open to all students with bachelor’s degrees.

Logo of the NIU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of AmericaWalker received the Distinguished Educator Award from the Public Relations Society of America in 1976.

A decade later, Walker was the researcher and author of the first formal report documenting the body of publication relations knowledge in the United States. The Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education produced the report, released in 1988.

“Finally, we have a document which will silence the skeptics who say that public relations is not a profession and has no defined body of knowledge,” said Frank T. LeBart, the group’s 1987 president. “Our study shows conclusively that the knowledge exists and where it can be found.”

In 2004, NIU alumni Robert Kornecki and Chuck Merydith worked in conjunction with the NIU Department of Communication to develop the Emeritus Professor Al Walker Visiting Professionals Fund.

“Over the course of his teaching career, Dr. Walker made a lasting impression on hundreds of PR students,” Kornecki said at that time, “not only for what he taught us in the classroom, but for what he exposed us to in the professional world.”