A die-hard Republican in a prominently Republican area, Walker had just wanted to be left alone. But he says the experience made him decide to get involved in government “so I could control things politically rather than be controlled.”
Walker formally took over Kelly Acres from his grandmother in 1986, and he and his wife have been running the operation ever since. It’s a job, he says, that he wouldn’t give up even if he won the lottery.
Yet neither Walker’s mother, a documentation specialist, nor his sister, an engineer at a nuclear power plant, had any interest in taking over the business. His mother doesn’t have fond memories of growing up in Windham, Walker says, and “she got the heck out of there as fast as she could.”
Sometimes it’s easy to see why.
Walker puts in about 70 hours a week, sometimes starting as early as 3:30 a.m. After all, the hunters need a big breakfast before they troop off into Walker’s 200 acres of woods in search of game. Walker offers his guests dinner, too. He learned most of what he knows from his grandmother, who fell ill and died nine years ago.
Cooking, he says, is like life. “You can’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you don’t make a mistake, you don’t get anywhere in life.”
Cleanup is a whole other task. Imagine preparing dinner for 20 people and not having a dishwasher. “We don’t need one,” Walker insists, although it would be nice to have an extra hand around the house. Business has grown the last few years, thanks in part to the website Nancy designed, but it’s not enough to hire help. Fortunately, their official greeter doesn’t draw a paycheck. Einstein the yellow Lab, who was on his way to the animal shelter when the Walkers rescued him several years ago, only requires food, a daily walk and lots of attention.
Walker shrugs off his nearly non-stop job.
“Even though it’s a lot of work, you get to call the projects and the hours. You’re working for yourself. At the end of the day, it’s ours.”
“The commute is unbeatable,” Nancy Walker adds.
A Windham native, Nancy never imagined she’d stay here after college, much less run a bed and breakfast. She says one of the biggest adjustments for her was the lack of privacy.
“It’s a public house,” says Steve Walker, who is used to the commotion because of the summers he spent at Kelly Acres as a boy. “People don’t even knock when they come in. If someone rings the doorbell, it means I don’t know them very well.”
Sometimes Kelly Acres is filled with strangers, like when a wedding is held on its grounds. The Walkers also are involved in other side businesses, such as selling hay and raising honeybees and, occasionally, pigs.
While on his way to deliver a truckload of hay, Walker points to a fence, which is electrified to keep bears out of the beehive.
“They haven’t bothered [the hive] since they got jolted,” he says as he climbs into his truck, a 15-year-old GMC with 118,000 miles on it. Walker likes to joke that despite his decision to turn his back on a far more lucrative career, he still got the big house. The nice car, though, is just a dream, and an impractical one at that. In an area where people barely blink when they get 30 inches of snow, having a four-wheel drive vehicle is almost a necessity.
Walker pulls up to a woman’s house and is greeted by several sheep grazing in the fenced-in backyard. Once the sheep’s hay is unloaded, he tentatively lowers himself from the truck bed. Three years ago, he jumped out of the truck and broke his ankle. His foot was turned 90 degrees, yet amazingly, he felt no pain, even after rescue workers arrived and began treating him. Since there didn’t seem to be any hurry, a friend on the scene grabbed a camera and began snapping pictures.
On the drive back to Kelly Acres, Walker talks about how Windham, population 1,680, has transformed into a booming vacation industry. The number of people at least triples on weekends, he says, and the price of real estate in the county has jumped 50 percent in the last year.
In addition to boasting two ski resorts within 15 miles, the area has two PGA golf courses and plenty of scenery. During the day, one overlook offers a view of five states; at night, stars fill the sky like sugar sprinkled on a sheet of black construction paper.
Still, the town has no traffic light. The closest supermarket is 15 miles and the nearest hospital is 40 miles. And forget about your cell phone; most wireless carriers don’t have service. “People like that,” he says. “They want to get away and not talk to anybody.”
Windham is the kind of place where Walker waves to nearly everyone he passes on the road.
“Bad joke:” Walker says. “Most everyone has a scanner in the Windham area. By the time you hit the floor dead from a heart attack, everyone knows it.”
All kidding aside, Nancy Walker says that half the town would show up if you ever were in big trouble.
Now that he’s older and more experienced, Walker realizes how little in life one can truly control, and how much you have to roll with whatever happens, be it good or bad. That’s why he can’t understand people who take jobs they hate just for the money. Nor can he figure out those who sock away their earnings, only to live frugal and unhappy lives.
“You gotta be happy doing what you’re doing,” he says.
Walker figures he’ll run Kelly Acres for at least 18 more years, until he can begin collecting social security. He’d like to keep the inn in the family, though he and his wife don’t have children and he doesn’t have a successor in mind.
As for his retirement plans, one dream is to work part-time as a historian. “The more you learn,” Walker says, “the more you realize there’s a heck of a lot to learn.”
For more information on Kelly Acres, visit www.kellyacres.com or call 518-734-3711.