PERRY -- A large, colorful model airplane hung Wednesday in the McDonalds restaurant near the Houston County Courthouse where Blake Walston and a group of coffee-drinking buddies met up most mornings.
Heart-shaped red and green balloons adorned the spot where the group of about a dozen usually sits. Restaurant employees, who consider the group like family, wanted to do something to remember their friend who died of cancer last week at age 71.
Walston, a retired aircraft mechanic, built and flew model planes since 1948. He started when he was a young boy.
Whenever Mr. Blake would come in ... he was just so full of energy, said Vickie Miller, a shift manager at McDonalds who came up with the idea for the memorial. We never knew if he was in pain. He was just himself.
She credited Walston and others in the close-knit coffee club for helping her get through her husbands death last year.
Just watching him ... it just gave me what I needed to keep going and have hope, Miller said. When you meet people like this and theyre going through things and youre doing things in your life, I just latched onto them.
They became like a family to me.
Cecil Wiggins, a close friend who had known Walston for nearly 17 years, said Walston was always full of jokes.
Dean Hattaway recalled the first time he met Walston, who was handicapped, having lost a leg in an accident.
His comments were he wanted to know if Id seen a leg laying anywhere around. Hed lost one, Hattaway said. And he was in his wheelchair. He was really upbeat with about everything like that.
He was also smart, liked to build things and did a lot of work on the Haunted Barn in Perry, Hattaway said.
Riley Hood, who was celebrating his 81st birthday with the group Wednesday, noted that Walston was good with children.
Were going to miss him, Hood said. Were going to miss him very much.
His son Bryan Walston helped hang the plane in the restaurant the previous day.
My daddy affected more people than just his family, he said. He has many friends and his attitude was contagious. He never did get down through this whole thing.
A memorial service for Walston is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Perry RC Flyers Club field at 2235 Highway 41 north of Perry.
Miller said she and his coffee buddies plan to meet up that morning and release a balloon in remembrance of their friend. Shell attach a coffee cup and two hash brown containers to the balloon.
Thats what he always ordered, she said.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.