Many consider Walton and SOPA the leading force in turning the former Empire Detroit Steel Mill into land usable for a Wal-Mart Supercenter and other businesses, cleaning up the abandoned New Boston Coke site and bringing the Haverhill North Coke plant to Scioto County.
“The reality of the situation is that he is the backbone of the redevelopment here in Scioto County and in southern Ohio,” said Ohio Rep. Todd Book. “He works on it and he makes it happen. You make a lot of political people look good.”
Book joked that they had to find somebody to name it after since one-time Ohio Speaker of the House Vern Riffe was gone.
“I was almost gone, that's the only reason they did it,” said Walton. Walton has been fighting lung cancer since September with frequent trips to Columbus and Portsmouth hospitals.
“You're not gone and we need you to stay around,” Book replied.
Scioto County Commissioner Tom Reiser said that Walton was the lead player in getting the Sun Coke plant in Haverhill.
“He has also been a leader in other programs for the community,” Reiser said. “What the guy has that most people don't is two things - vision and tenacity. And we are certainly happy (Walton uses) it for us.”
At the unveiling of the new sign, Walton said he was humbled.
“This came as a total surprise and it is the greatest honor I've ever had in my life,” he said. “I truly appreciate this. It truly, truly humbles me.”
Don Hadsell of J&H Erectors replaced the lettering on the metal sign at the entrance of the industrial park to reflect the change and paid for it himself.
New Boston Mayor Jim Warren said it was Walton who paid for the old mill property with his own silver dollar in 1994. The property is owned by the Southern Ohio Port Authority.
“I think Bob has been one of the foremost leaders for this,” Warren said. “He undertook this with one dollar and he's been able to reach in and get millions of dollars for the cleanup of this site.”
In July 1982, workmen began dismantling the steel mill to send it to the Lone Star Steel Mill in Texas.
Warren said he could remember watching the demolition of the steel mill building from the Stanton school where he was principal.
“I worried about the kids getting hurt and wondered what would ever be done with the property,” he said. “But Walton had a vision and a plan.
“A greater honor couldn't have been made for a greater man,” he added.
MARK SHAFFER can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235.