When you meet John and Angela Walker, you notice a few things. First, this couple is a great team that really appreciates each other and the other’s strengths. And you’ll realize they love to learn and get involved.
The arts and travel are their passions. It was actually both that brought them into the Kansas City Ballet inner circle.
Angela says: “In 2016 we took the Ballet’s trip to Cuba with the Patrons Society [now Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Society]. That’s how we met everybody. It was with Devon [Kansas City Ballet’s Artistic Director] and Jeff [Kansas City Ballet’s Executive Director] and then many of the board members. Just to be able to spend time with them and learn about them, we were inspired.”
A History with the Arts
As a child, Angela lived in Kansas City and developed a strong appreciation for music and dance. She took piano lessons as well as ballet lessons. The latter were from her mother who ran her own ballet school. Angela’s parents met in Germany when her father was a very handsome American fighter pilot after World War II and her mother was a professional ice skater who performed in ice shows at the Casa Carioca nightclub in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, nestled in the Bavarian Alps.
Angela and her entire family were also members of KC Ballet. One year, American Ballet Theatre came to Kansas City to perform Swan Lake. The production needed local supers to walk on and then back out during some scenes. Angela, her parents and her two brothers all were selected. “My mother and I were in one scene and then we got to watch the rest of the performance. Cynthia Gregory, one of the very best American ballerinas of that time, was ‘Odette/Odile’. We were right there. It was just so amazing!”
Meanwhile, John grew up just outside of Detroit, listening to Motown and singing in school choirs. He continued to sing after joining the Air Force, to include performing in a joint Allied Choir in Germany. “I did not have a classical upbringing like Angela but I appreciate good music,” John says.
A Strong Partnership
When Angela joined the Air Force she had no idea she’d meet her future husband during technical training. The two were subsequently stationed in Berlin, Germany, in the late 70s.
“I saw that they (the Deutsche Oper Ballet) were going to do a ballet, and I asked John if he would go with me” Angela remembers. John said, “Yes.”
He’d never seen a ballet in his life.
“It was Swan Lake,” Angela says. “So we get there and it was the first time we had both been to this theater. I started jumping up and down when I saw the cast list because the ‘Odette/Odile’ was none other than Cynthia Gregory!”
“Once the ballet started, I was like, they actually have live music with the ballets,” John says with a smile. “What a concept, right?”
The two lived in West Berlin for about ten years and attended ballet performances often. In addition to the Deutsche Oper Ballet company, other major European companies would come through each year as well as famous guest artists like Rudolph Nureyev, Peter Martins, Fernando Bujones, and Sylvie Guillem.
After the Berlin Wall came down, the Walkers, along with all the other U.S. troops in Berlin, were sent home. They ended up living near Washington D.C. In 1991, they purchased a ballet season subscription to the Kennedy Center. Each year, the Walkers attended performances by the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, as well as several major US and foreign companies. They kept their subscription when they moved to Kansas City and still go back for ballet performances 3-4 times a year.
In their more than 40 years of marriage, John and Angela continue to attend and enjoy ballets together. Always together.
When Angela’s parents lived here in in Overland Park for the last 10 years of their lives, Angela was coming to KC on a regular basis to help them. She tried to time all of her trips to come and see Kansas City Ballet with them as a bonus.
The couple retired from their federal jobs in the Washington, D.C. area in the summer of 2015. They hadn’t really planned to retire to Kansas City, but the revitalization of downtown, the opening of the Bolender Center and the Kauffman Center, and especially the high quality of the Kansas City Ballet helped them make up their minds. Once in Kansas City, Angela and John started looking for ways to get involved with the arts. They became subscribers to Kansas City Ballet and joined the Bolender Society and the Ballet Guild. Angela also became a volunteer at the Kauffman Center.
A Passion Grows
Music has always been a driving force for the Walkers.
“The music, for me, has always been the reason you dance,” Angela says. “It’s not only having the music… but having high-quality live music. We have been at performances where the live music is…well…it would almost have been better to have a recording.”
Not so at Kansas City Ballet. Having the world-class Kansas City Symphony, led by Kansas City Ballet Music Director Ramona Pansegrau, accompanying the dancers is paramount.
“Ramona can slow them [the musicians] down or speed them up or wait for the big note until the dancer finishes his/her many pirouettes… that is an amazing level of musicianship! For us to have that is unbelievable. It really enhances the entire experience — for both the audience and the dancers — to have the live music with the dance,” Angela states.
Leaving a Legacy
Given their passion for dance and live music, John and Angela wanted to support both the ballet and the live music that permeates Kansas City Ballet’s performances, school classes and community engagement and education programs. So they established the Walker Fund for Live Music and have pledged their estate gift be added to the fund in the future. “We just love the concept that the Kansas City Symphony is directly supporting the ballet with live music,” says John. “With our legacy, we’d like to make sure that that happens forever.”
Angela says, “The biggest joy for me is that we are doing this together and enjoying it. It’s not just for us, but it’s for the community. Because I think music and dance can make pretty much anything better. What we are giving would never pay for all of it. One person can’t do it all. There’s still so much opportunity for others to do.”
What are You Passionate About?
To make a gift that is meaningful to you and makes a lasting impact for Kansas City Ballet, please contact Director of Gift Planning Rebecca Zandarski at 816.216.5597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photograph by Larry F. Levenson