A humble man with the voice of God. That is how many students from St. Christopher’s Catholic church describe Fred LeWalter.
Fred was a World War II U.S.army veteran, a local business owner and a devoted husband and father.
Although Fred was proud of his military service, he spoke highly of his family. Fred and his wife, Jean, had three children together, Karen, then adopted Todd and had Patrick last. Fred’s oldest daughter Karen Walker talks about her childhood and how her mother and father contributed so much to her life, as well as the lives of the Rochester community.
Karen said Fred grew up in Rochester, and he was an only child of his parents who lived on Suburban Avenue in Irondequoit.
Fred joined the service in 1942 and was discharged in Feb. 1946. He was a corporal airplane mechanic and he was stationed in Texas where he received the Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal.
Karen says that after military service he tried carpentry for a while, but found out he was afraid of heights when working on buildings, and ended up becoming a partner with his dad, Fred W. in the hardwood lumber business. Their business, known as LeWalter Hardwoods, focused on stakes, wedges, blocks and cutting wood to sizes a sawmill would not do for construction companies.
“Fred worked long hours and sometimes on weekends,” Karen said. “He loved his work and he got along with his customers. He was too nice sometimes, and some of his customers took advantage and paid late. He also kept all his books and sent out the bills to his customers using a typewriter and manual calculator back then and paid the bills. Sometimes he was so tired when he came home, he would fall asleep still sitting holding the newspaper up in an easy chair before dinner,” Karen said.
Fred expanded the business and built the shop that exists today on Attridge Road in Chili with his son Patrick. Karen said all of his kids worked at the shop at one time or another, including herself.
Karen describes Fred as a very social man, which is exactly how anyone who knew Fred described him. Karen said that one of Fred’s favorite community activities was joining the Benevolent Order of Elks Irondequoit Lodge 2054. Karen said he was very involved and was Exalted Ruler for one year, District Deputy one year and District Youth Chairman.
Despite being a hard working business owner and involved community member, Karen said Fred was a more devoted father and husband and found time to make simple but most precious memories for his kids.
“He inherited a cottage, more like a camp, no running water and an outhouse, in Fairhaven that was on leased land. We would spend weekends down there in the summer, leaving late Friday night and returning Sunday evenings. He enjoyed swimming and we had a wood motor boat. He taught me the doggie paddle in the water and how to row a boat. He also taught me how to drive the motorboat safely. He enjoyed a beer on hot nights too,” Karen said.
Karen said the most important memory she has of Fred was how he was a generous and loving father and husband to Jean. Fred’s granddaughter, Brianna Stojanov says from her perspective, the pair were inseparable and seen as a perfect love story. Brianna even said she remembered Fred always having a hard time hearing Jean the first time.
“They showed love and affection with a kiss here and there, but the way they showed love the most was the support through the toughest times and caring for one another always without complaint. My grandpa was patient with grandma, and I guess she was somewhat patient with him earlier on,” Brianna said.
Fred and Jean had a loving relationship. Eileen Stair, church member and friend of the LeWalter family, says the relationship between the two was one out of The Notebook. Stair recalls a conversation she had with Fred about how him and Jean had met at a dance.
“They met at a dance that neither of them had originally intended to go to, and from that point on fell in love and remained together,” Stair said. “Because Jean’s parents were so protective of her, she was very shy and more socially withdrawn, whereas Fred was very social and outgoing. Their differences complimented each other.”
Stair added as Jean’s condition deteriorated, Fred continued to take care of her, regardless of regardless of his own deteriorating health.
“Eventually, Fred could no longer take care of Jean, even with his son Todd living there and visiting nurses coming, so Jean had to be placed in a nursing home about 30 mins from where they lived,” Stair said. “Fred still visited her.Most of the time Jean did not remember Fred but he still attempted to feed her and hold her hand, and she a couple of times pulled her hand away in the moments that she had no memory of him. He remained steadfast, kind and devoted to her regardless. He told me that he still saw her as the beautiful girl he fell in love with. Then Covid pandemic shut everything down and at that point while the weather still allowed Fred would visit her through a window.”
Fred also participated in St. Christopher’s annual presentation of “At the Corner of Broadway” where he would perform a song for the community members. The first solo he sang was dedicated to Jean and Stair said his performances gave him so much joy. The last two years however, Fred could not perform in person due to Covid-19 and therefore he had his solos recorded.
“I recorded his last performance in Aug. 2021 of “Old Man River” from his bed just days after he returned home from the hospital after being in ICU with a collapsed lung. He was very dedicated,” Stair said.
Fred always went to church every Sunday and lectured the readings almost every week. Judy Leone, previous Religious Ed. program leader and employee of St. Christopher’s Church, said students saw Fred as if he was God.
“Fred was a very important part of our Junior High, High school religious education program,” Leone said. “He would come in and speak to our students about life and the struggles that go with it. He was a humble man, with a deep but soft voice. He freely talked about the struggles that he had to work through and let them know without any hesitation, that God was the center of their lives and got them through the hard times and good times. He spoke to them about how important it is to always look to God for help and to thank him every day. He expressed the importance of going to church every week,” Leone said.
Leone described how Fred’s faith helped to strengthen the student’s beliefs, who attended mass and religious education classes.
“The students would tell me that it was like God was sitting in front of them,” Leone said. “They would get excited when he lectured at liturgies, because it was like God was sharing his life with them and it was easy to pay attention. I will never forget the feeling in the classroom when he would talk to the students. You could hear a pin drop and their faces just beamed. He was a very special man and God truly spoke through him. We will miss him.
Fred passed away on Nov. 9, 2021 at the age of 99. Jean passed away in March 2021 at the age of 95, after 69 years of marriage. Fred contributed so much to the Rochester community and will be missed.