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Thelma Gibbs Walker Scholarship

In 1983, Gamma Kappa Omega established an annual scholarship fund to be awarded to college seniors planning to continue their education. In 2000, in recognition of her years as an educator in Southern Illinois and continued service to the Gamma Kappa Omega Chapter, this fund was renamed the Thelma Gibbs Walker Scholarship.




  1. Full-time African American male or female high school senior

  2. Reside in Southern Illinois (Jackson/Williamson) counties

  3. Minimum GPA of 2.5 of 4.0

  4. Demonstrate community service involvement

  5. Identify honors and awards




Application Requirements:


  1. Completed application form including a typed personal essay (See Application/Section D).

  2. Two (2) typed letters of recommendation: One (1) academic and (1) professional or personal (non relative/family member). Letters must include the recommender's contact information.

  3. Official high school transcript MUST include cumulative GPA.

  4. Certification of Admissibility or College acceptance letter for the 2024-2025 academic school year must accompany the application.


Applications can be obtained from the high school counselor's office or downloaded here. 



Completed applications must be mailed to:


P.O. Box 519

Carbondale, IL 62903

ATTN:  Scholarship Committee





*Recipients will be awarded with two semester allotments for the academic year in which they are enrolled





Contact:  ​The GKO Scholarship Committee


THE 2024 Scholarship Application IS CLOSED

 Thelma Gibbs Walker Scholarship

Thelma Gibbs Walker


Not everyone in Carbondale gets a street named after them or a day named in their honor. But not everyone in Carbondale is as much a part of the community as Thelma Gibbs Walker was. It could almost be said that Walker was as much a part of the foundation of modern Carbondale as the streets, the sidewalks, the public buildings. Walker died on Tuesday after suffering what appeared to have been a series of small strokes.


Her husband, James Walker, and Larry, who was like a son to her and is affectionately known as "Mike," remembered Thelma Gibbs Walker during an interview in her home Thursday afternoon. Walker attended Attucks grade and high schools and earned a bachelor's degree at Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. She completed her graduate work at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Walker was among a group of 11 women who founded [chartered] the Gamma Kappa Omega graduate chapter of the national sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1941. She was the last surviving charter member. 


In 1996, the SIUC chapter surprised Walker by honoring her at the 55th anniversary of the sorority's charter. Among the guests were former Carbondale Mayor Neil Dillard, who proclaimed the day as Thelma Gibbs Walker Day, and former Carbondale Elementary School District Superintendent Elizabeth Lewin, one of her former students. In 1983, Gamma Kappa Omega established an annual scholarship fund. That scholarship was renamed in 2000 as the Alpha Kappa Alpha Thelma Gibbs Walker Scholarship. But that's  all getting a little ahead of the story.

First and foremost, Walker is remembered as a teacher. Her husband said she taught for 33 years, first at Attucks Grade School and then as one of the first two integrated teachers at Lincoln Junior High School. The other African-American teacher, he said, was his sister, Lucille Walker. Lucille Walker was also a charter member of Gamma Kappa Omega Chapter. "Her students loved her," James Walker said of his late wife. "They remembered her years later, and called her to ask her advice. They held her in the highest esteem." "Her word was her word - and they went by her word," Larry said with a chuckle. James Walker said he met his wife through his sister. They married on Nov. 22, 1953, at the Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, where Thelma was an active member. 


The way James Walker remembers it, there weren't a lot of men around because they'd all left to seek employment elsewhere. He said that evened up his odds. Then he said he wasn't sure if that "no other men around" part was wholly accurate - he was a lot more focused on Thelma than on anything else, he said. Besides teaching during the school year, Thelma Gibbs Walker enjoyed a summer vacation full of still more teaching. The Carbondale Park District asked her to oversee programs at Attucks Park, especially the "tot lots" that catered to the younger children. Summer programs at the park included arts and crafts, baseball, basketball, tennis and swimming at Crab Orchard Lake. "In order to do that, you had to be good - no fighting with the other kids or causing trouble, just playing nicely," Larry said. "If not, you weren't allowed to go." Thelma Gibbs Walker was also involved with the annual Spirit of Attucks reunions. Event organizers relied on her good taste and sound advice, Larry said. 


Mrs. Walker also served on the Carbondale Police and Fire Commission, one of the first women to do so. James Walker said his wife was very involved in her church. Even when ailing health prevented her from attending every week, she still always asked about what was going on at the church, he said. And the church relied on her teaching ability, naming her the superintendent of the Mount Olive District Sunday School programs. She also served as the president of the Mount Olive Baptist Congress, he said. "She was fond of her church," her husband said simply. Mrs. Walker retired from teaching in 1975 and moved into her second career at the Jackson Funeral Home, which she and her husband took over in 1974. 


James Walker said the couple had been very close to Frank and Etta Jackson, who founded the funeral home in August 1906. Working in the funeral home business was natural for Thelma Gibbs Walker. She had an innate sense of what families in distress needed and was a compassionate person through and through, Larry said.


"The community welcomed (James and Thelma) because of

the all the love, trust and respect, and for all the compassion

they showed to families," Larry said. "They were welcomed

because of how much they tried to help. Families relied on

them" (when they lost a loved one).


Their families became part of our family." In a show of gratitude, the city changed the name of "East Green Street" to "James and Thelma Walker Avenue" on April 29, 2003. It was a double honor for the couple. James Walker recalled at the time that he used to "tease" the city about paving the street. After it was paved - and sidewalks were added - the city renamed the street. City Manager Jeff Doherty said the Walkers were long time contributors to the city culture, both professionally and personally. 


"The city felt it would be appropriate to name the street after them and I think

everyone in the community concurred," he said, noting the civic-minded nature of Thelma Gibbs Walker. Larry said the woman he loved as a mother was not the sort to go looking for glory. "If she did something, she just did it," he said. "She wasn't the type to do things just so people would see it." The greater Carbondale community will have the opportunity to pay their respects to Thelma Gibbs Walker during two visitations before her funeral Wednesday - one on Tuesday evening and one the morning of the funeral. Mr. Walker passed away on November 19, 2011.

From The Southern Illinoisan, April 22, 2006, Andrea Hahn. (Article published shortly after Soror Walker's death)


The City of Carbondale honored the Walkers with a post during Black History Month, 2023. 


You Can Donate to the Scholarship Fund at any time!

Thelma GIbbs Walker (far left in the hat standing with children) and The Rev. Lenus Turley, (r) then Pastor of Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Carbondale, IL


Additional funding for education, as well as community grants may be found at:  Faith Miller, Chapter EAF Captain

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