A few weeks ago I mentioned how delighted I was to hear from a long-lost friend. I hadn’t heard from Lydia Walker in nearly 40 years and didn’t know where she was or even if she was still alive.
I’m happy to report that she is alive and well. And at 92, looks like the picture of health. From our first conversation, I learned that Lydia was up to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Pinochle Association in New Orleans this weekend.
"Playing Pinochle makes you forget the world around you. Once you start playing, you have no going-home-sense," Lydia said with a chuckle.
She credits her dad with instilling in her the love of the card game. "I started playing cards when I was 6. My dad used to give each of us $2 a week allowance and then he would turn around and win it back."
I’ve learned from Lydia that pinochle players are in a league all by themselves. Die-hard players eat, sleep and breath the card game. For Lydia, the love affair with pinochle began back in 1954, when she was a nursing student at Tuskegee’s V.A. Psychiatric Institute in Alabama. She said she was taught the basic skills of game by three of the patients.
Lydia, a former WAC in the U.S. Army, later followed her husband Leroy to Kaiserstautern, Germany, where they were stationed for 42 months.
While in the WACs, Lydia was responsible for the first beauty parlor for black women. She once told me that when she entered the service, she noticed that the white WACs had a special place to get their hair done. "But not the black women." Lydia went to her superior and asked for a room, but not before she had attended beauty school to learn the trade herself.
After their tour of duty in Germany, Lydia and her husband came back home to Miami, where she worked for a while as a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The couple later founded Walker’s Funeral Home.
It was in 1975 that Lydia and her pinochle partners started playing weekly tournaments at Homestead Air Force Base. The players formed the Hard KnunkPinochle Club, hosting the tournaments until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed the base . The club ten became the Awesome Chastisers Progressive Pinochle Enterprises, and in 1994, joined the National Pinochle Association. The national tournament and convention was hosted by the Miami club for the first time in 1996.
The award Lydia is receiving this weekend will be bittersweet. Her great nephew and devoted pinochle partner the late Andre Leon DeBose, will be inducted posthumously into the Pinochle Hall of Fame. DeBose died in 2012 of colon cancer.
Lydia, who now lives in South Miami-Dade, said one of the greatest joys of her life was when she and partner Steve Brown "pulled" three consecutive pinochles on Ray Vickers and Anthony Collins. (It was Collins, who wrote the book Winning Pinochle Strategies.)
"Playing Pinochle has given me the greatest memories of my life," Lydia said.
Fraternity honors local students
When the National Sigma Beta Club, the youth affiliate of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity had its National Leadership Conference July 10-13 at Temple University in Philadelphia, two of Miami’s own were honored for their excellence.
Edward Leonard, a freshman at the New World School of the Arts, won the oratorical contest, speaking on the topic of the effects of childhood obesity and how the Sigma Beta Club could solve the problem.