After boiling down a lifetime of experiences and adventures, it becomes clear that Bill Walter simply wants to help. He's a willing mentor, an eager fundraiser, a committed supporter of his favorite organizations, and an appreciative alumnus of the University of Minnesota. He and wife Judy Walter endowed a scholarship for men's basketball and the recipients included Andre Hollins, '15 BSB (pictured above). 

"I'm forever grateful to the University for what it did for me," says Bill Walter, '72 MBA, in a refrain he shares in different iterations several times during a near-hour-long conversation in his office in south Minneapolis.

His business, Heartland Realty Investors, sits in a building that was once an old grocery store topped by a series of apartments. The updated structure is a reflection of the business itself, one which Walter bought from his employer as the larger company liquidated subsidaries, went bankrupt, and wound down into oblivion. That opportunity, one that shaped much of Walter's life in the past 40 years, came only thanks to his time at Minnesota.

In the late 1960s, Walter was an avid basketball fan with an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Minnesota and a commitment to the Navy. He had left his hometown of Helena, Mont., for the Twin Cities thanks to a Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. In exchange for that support, Walter served following graduation. The U.S. was locked in a protracted war in Vietnam, and he, like many of his peers, was sent overseas. His engineering background gave him skills that were critical to American missions at the time, and he ultimately served two tours abroad.

"When I got out [of the Navy] in 1970, I came back to go to school at the University," says Walter. "I love construction and my civil engineering background, but I realized I didn't want to be an engineer my whole life."

Walter enrolled in the MBA program at the Carlson School of Management. He wanted to pursue his passion for investing. He left the University with his second degree in 1972 and began working with Shelter Corporation of America. Then, the company went broke. The bank asked Walter to help it unpack the company's assets. Walter agreed on the condition he could purchase Shelter Financial Corporation, a subsidiary he turned into his current business. 

His success as a businessman has afforded Walter the opportunities to indulge his appetite for helpfulness. While that branched in many directions—from youth sports in southwest Minneapolis to a multi-decade tenure on the National Parks Board of Director—his alma mater has received a great amount of his attention.

A benefactor, a fan, and a mentor

Basketball is a life-long love for Walter. He was the captain of a lousy high school team in Montana who relished being around the game. He brought that appreciation with him when he moved to Minneapolis.

"I love Gopher Basketball as an undergraduate. We had Lou Hudson, Archie Clark, and Don Yates. The point guard actually lived across the hall from me in Frontier Hall when I was a freshman," recalls Walter. "So I was able to talk to him about college basketball, and I quickly learned about the players and who they were." 

That encompassing view of student-athletes has stuck with Walter, who has taken an active role mentoring basketball players studying in the Carlson School, including famed sharpshooters Blake Hoffarber and Andre Hollins. Along with those mentorships, Walter lends his experience to other Carlson School students as well.

"They are inspirational. You talk about superstars," Walter says, smiling and shaking his head as he reflects on the students with whom he has worked over the years. "These young people I get exposed to, I hope I can provide some help and some guidance. ... From my perspective, I get far more out of it than I put into it."

His focus on giving back to both the basketball program and the Carlson School extends to scholarship support as well. He and his wife, Judy, have established several scholarships within both athletics and the business school.

"When I grew up, we had nothing. I knew I wanted to get out of Montana," says Walter. "My scholarship enabled it. We are trying to give other students today the same opportunity I had."

Walter's support goes beyond his own checkbook. He also fills a role of advocate and fundraiser. He reminisces about his junior year of high school when he agreed to raise money to publish the yearbook, a job nobody else wanted. He shares stories of working to raise money for parks, for his own company, and for the University.

"I've spent my whole life fundraising. People, my wife in particular, say, 'Don't you get tired of asking people for money?' says Walter. "The truth of the matter is, I never ask people for money. I've never done that. What I do is tell them what I'm doing and how excited I am about it and they ought to join me because this is good stuff. This is fun."

"When I grew up, we had nothing. I knew I wanted to get out of Montana," says Walter. "My scholarship enabled it. We are trying to give other students today the same opportunity I had."

That genuine zeal makes it feel like Walter would do anything on a moment's notice for his favorite causes and organizations. And while the sentiment is figuratively true, he points out the one thing in his life around which he schedules everything for six months out of the year.

"I alter my schedule in the winter around Gopher [basketball] games, business travel, and all of that," Walter says. In addition to attending every home game as a season ticket holder, Walter also travels to at least one or two road games each year and follows the team throughout its conference and NCAA tournament runs. He boasts an unblemished streak of attending every Big Ten tournament in history.

It's been more than half a century since Walter first arrived on the University of Minnesota campus. He's earned two degrees, built a successful business, and invested a tremendous amount back into his community. His enthusiasm still shines through when he discusses his favorite things—his family, his busines, his alma mater. That enthusiasm shines the brightest when talking about his favorite team. Walter is still the captain of a lousy high school basketball team in Montana, excited to be in the stands for the next Gopher basketball game. 

Learn more about giving to the Carlson School

This story was written by Jake Ricker and first ran in Ski U Mah, the Gopher Sports magazine.