Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Walter Turner, PhD

May 14, 1933 - July 4, 2020
Kalamazoo, MI



Wednesday, July 15, 2020
2:00 PM EDT
Genessee Prairie Cemetery
3555 S. 11th St
Kalamazoo, MI 49009


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries
448 N. Burdick St
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 345-2974
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Gregarious, intelligent, and determined, Walter Turner, PhD, lived a life rich in family and friends. Walt possessed a spark for life, a passion for education, and an unwavering devotion to his family. A man who knew the value of work and the importance of play, Walt proved a powerful role model for many. He embraced life’s joys and trials with equal gratitude and welcomed each day as a gift. Walt loved adventure and encouraged others to strive for their dreams. Respected by many, Walt will long be held in the hearts and memories of those he loved.

Despite the gloom of the Great Depression, the power of hope undulated in the hearts of many. With a natural drive to not just endure but thrive in the face of uncertainty, the nation continued to put one foot in front of the other to build a better future. It was during this time of great challenge that Robert and Frances (Flanek) Turner welcomed their son Walter into their family on May 14, 1933.

Walt grew up in the Flint ghetto. The adversities he faced growing up in poverty proved a sturdy foundation upon which he consciously built the rest of his life. The primary caretaker for his family, Walt’s first job was a paperboy. Despite his incredible intellect, he was discouraged from attending school, even by his school counselors. Instead, he was encouraged to work in a factory to support the family. Driven by his need for intellectual stimulation and a drive to create a better life, Walt made education a priority.

Using the paper route money to buy a car, he was able to further his studies at Michigan State University. He worked nights at General Motors and attended classes during the day. While at the University, Walt enjoyed having access to the school’s cafeteria and the good food that was different from what he grew up with. In addition to his studies, Walt was an active member of the French Club, Acting Club, Polish Club, Tennis Team, and Basketball Team. He tutored athletes and was able to attend games for free. In time, he received his doctorate in mathematics from MSU, fulfilling his dream to become a professor.

Dr. Walter Turner began his teaching career at the General Motors Institute and taught satellite courses at several other universities part-time. He later became a mathematics professor at Western Michigan University, where he retired after 27 years of service. An enthusiastic teacher, he never required a microphone and often taught classes of up to 200 students, where many teachers had far fewer. Straightforward, personable, and fun, he was quite popular amongst both students and faculty. The faculty had confidence in his abilities, and the students enjoyed learning from him. He even wrote his own textbook for a Finite Mathematics course.

Having married his high school sweetheart, Mary Pat Rogers, Walt was blessed to be the father of seven children. To support his large family, he taught at one place during the day and night classes at another. He encouraged his kids’ education and made sure they had extra classes or activities in the areas that interested them. He held his kids to high expectations, and they knew they had to be diligent in their activities, whether that be music, art or language lessons, or sports and science activities.

Walt taught his children how to manage money from a very young age. If the kids wanted something for fun or fashion, they had to come up with half the money, and he would pay the other half. It wasn’t all work and discipline for the Turner kids. Walt relished balancing work with play. He made a tradition of hiding the Halloween candy, bringing out a bit at a time. He’d have to inspect it, of course, which meant eating a few Milky Ways or Snickers, and he often cut one candy bar into seven equal pieces for the kids to share. As a result, none of his kids are sugar fanatics now. Walt was also known to answer his kids’ Christmas gift inquiries with a traditional, “I want a three-page essay on the meaning of life.” Though Walt and Pat’s marriage eventually ended in divorce, he never wavered in his diligent care for his children.

A man of many talents, Walt kindled the very best in so many. He inspired people to believe in themselves and enjoy life, even if it meant breaking the rules once in a while. He led by example and often with a great sense of adventure and humor. He enjoyed attending national conventions with other professors, which afforded him the opportunity to travel across the U.S. One time, in the 1970s, he returned from the Caribbean wearing a poncho, a sombrero, six machetes on his shoulder, and smoking a cigar, just like the locals. A fabulous host, he held many parties in his backyard, playing volleyball. He was a great cook, and he often went to Sarkozy’s Bakery or the local butcher looking for deals. He enjoyed trying different cuisines, sometimes for the exchange students he’d host, and was very resourceful as he had a lot of mouths to feed. Walt was also an artist who especially enjoyed pen and ink drawings, and he had a special way with words, writing poems and mailing them to his daughters at camp with other care packages. Walt not only loved watching sports, but he also played on tennis leagues and lent his talents to pickup games at Western with colleagues from other departments or students. Sailing with groups of friends in Florida particularly added great joy to Walt’s sense of adventure.

Walt had a relatable personality and a deep commitment to using his gifts and experiences in the service of others. With much gratitude for his own sobriety, Walt was very active in A.A. Well respected by his A.A. peers, Walt enriched many fellowship members’ lives during his 40 years of sobriety.

As with his seven children, Walt had a positive impact on his grandkids, who were most precious to him. With wisdom and wit, he cultivated and encouraged their interests and talents. He fed their intellects and cheered on their artistic and athletic endeavors. He shared his wisdom with signature mantras, including, “Calm down and you’ll get it. Math isn’t something to be afraid of,” and “Never say ‘never.’ Don’t give up. Believe in yourself.” He encouraged his kin to remember that “rules are meant to be broken, but first, you have to know the rules.” The grandchildren inherited an appreciation for the arts and understood that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed to the fullest. For a man who lived so fully and so vibrantly, it is no wonder Walter went out with a bang, dying on the 4th of July 2020.

Without a doubt, life is significantly dimmer in the absence of Walt’s bright and steadfast presence. As we mourn the loss of the fine man we were privileged to know, may we find comfort in carrying his dynamic legacy forward. With each MSU and U of M game we cheer on, challenge we confidently embrace, hardship we overcome, and stranger we greet as a friend, we celebrate the many gifts Walt shared with us. In so doing, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.

Walt was preceded in death by his parents, and his daughter, Roberta Jones. He will be missed by his sisters and brother-in-law, Rose King and Dorthy (Fred) Cole; daughters: Constance, Anne, Nancy, and Jane (Randy Brumitt) Turner; sons: Nicholas (Beth) Turner and Stephen (Dawn) Turner; son-in-law, Bill Jones; grandchildren: Jacquelyn (Sean) Bannigan, Jessica Lancaster, Noah and Deane Begay, Robert, Mason, Samuel, and Teresa Turner, and Nicholas Gould; and great-grandchildren: Daemian and Natasha Begay. A private Life Story service will be held. Friends and guests are invited to a graveside service at 2 PM, Wednesday (July 15) at Genessee Prairie Cemetery. Visit Walt’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you may read his Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo 269-375-2900.