John “Hans” N. Walter, 95, of Keene and formerly of Chicago, IL. passed away peacefully with his family near on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Langdon Place in Keene.
He was born a son to the late Elisabeth (Kartje) and Peter Walter on July 4, 1927, in Rusko Selo, a small village of Germans, Hungarians, and Serbs in what is now Serbia, “Hans” was the oldest of six children. His family were subsistence farmers, mostly of German but also some French heritage, who had migrated to the area in the 1700s, and lived as their ancestors had, without electricity, running water, or motorized vehicles. Hans showed promise as a student, but there were few educational opportunities for him, and he had to help run the farm (something that he had little interest in) when his father was conscripted into military service in World War II.
A sister and his grandparents perished from malnutrition in a detention camp instituted in Yugoslavia shortly after the war, but, eventually, Hans and family members lived and worked in a refugee camp in Austria, where he courted fellow refugee Helen Stumpfhauser. Under the sponsorship of American relatives, Hans and his family immigrated to Chicago in the early 1950s. Shortly after arrival he was conscripted to serve in the American army in the Korean War, where he was placed in the front lines and sustained a shrapnel wound to his leg which led to an early discharge from combat. While on military furlough in 1952, he married Helen, who had by then also immigrated to the U.S.
Having obtained an associate’s degree in electronics during night school, paid for by the G.I. Bill (for which he was ever grateful), John had the foresight to seek employment at IBM, at a time when few people knew what computers were and how important they would eventually become. He worked for IBM until his retirement, and then, a teacher at heart, spent many years volunteering at the Arlington Heights Senior Center and library, where he taught basic computer and email skills to a generation who had never had the need to know them. He also assisted the elderly with their taxes.
He was equally proud of his Danube Swabian heritage and his adopted American home, consistently referring to the United States as the “land of unlimited opportunity.” He quickly learned the uniquely American sports of baseball and football and he mastered English to the extent that he ultimately preferred it to his native tongue.
He was an avid student of history, and having seen the failure of multiculturalism in Austria-Hungary and the Balkans, he favored a “melting pot” approach to immigration. Having witnessed the horrors of war, he thought leaders would be less likely to gamble away others’ lives if they themselves had experienced combat.
He was a profoundly decent, gentle, quietly optimistic and even-tempered man, and not prone to nostalgia. Even late in his life he dismissed notions that times were better in the past. Although he and his family had certainly experienced severe misfortune and hardship, John was also the beneficiary of many good turns of fortune, and he had the good grace to acknowledge it.
He was proud of his children and their spouses, and especially proud of his grandchildren, with whom, prior to the onset of dementia, he engaged in genuine dialogue, no matter how young they were at the time. He was a firm believer that each generation should help future generations do better.
John was predeceased by his wife Helen, his siblings Angela, Anton, and Michael, and his son-in-law, Professor Th. Emil Homerin. He is survived by brother Peter (Kathe), sister Anne Palffy (Edward), sisters-in-law Margaret Walter and Elisabeth Walter; his children Nora Walter, of Rochester, NY, Dr. John (Sandy) Walter, of Keene, NH, and Steven (Kristen) Walter, of Arlington Heights, IL; his grandchildren Luke (Kristin) Homerin, Elias Homerin, Miles Walter, Claire Walter, Thomas Walter, and Samuel Walter; and by numerous nieces and nephews.
A great way to commemorate John’s life would be to teach a family member something they may not know about their family’s history, including the historical context.
All services are under the care of Cheshire Family Funeral Chapel and Crematories, 44 Maple Ave. Keene, NH. 03431. www.cheshirefamilyfh.com.