Dr. Baker

Ten years ago, the Panther Marching Band family at the University of Northern Iowa was grieving the loss of Dr. John L. Baker.  Yesterday, his wife Dyan spoke to the current PMB members and alumni, and I became aware of how much of those difficult days I had forgotten.  Dr. Baker was a wonderful and important influence on who I am, and I don’t want to forget.

September 3, 2001–Dr. Baker turned 50.  We duck taped the 50 yard line in the Dome for PMB rehearsal.  We had a black cake.  And someone organized an ambulance to drive onto the field.  It was awesome.  Dr. Baker knew we loved him.  🙂 

September 29, 2001–Game day.  Dr. Baker had a bad headache during the game, and around 10:00 p.m., he and Dyan went to the hospital in Waterloo.  By 10:15 he was being flown by life flight to Iowa City, because of a brain aneurysm that was hemmoraging.  (Around 11:00 p.m. I got a phone call from Julie, a fellow PMB leadership member, who along with her boyfriend Levi, was watching Dr. Baker’s two little girls.)

The details elude me, but somewhere in the next day or so, Dr. Baker had brain surgery to try to repair the aneurysm.  From this point on, I don’t remember the medical details, but we were aware that Dr. Baker was struggling.

October 2, 2001–Our first rehearsal without Dr. Baker.  200 poor college students raised enough money to fly Dr. Baker’s older daughter from Florida to see her dad.

October 6, 2001–Dr. Baker died.

October 9, 2001–Dr. Baker’s family came to watch us rehearse.  I have never, before or since, cared so much about doing well for an audience.

There is no “the end” on this story.  It went on like this for the rest of the season.  We drew closer as a marching band family.  We were grateful to have known Dr. Baker, and we were sad to say goodbye.  We had t-shirts made that said “JLB” in a heart, which we wore under our uniforms for the rest of the season. 

Dr. Baker had a favorite warm-up for his marching band: “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.  We would have most likely played it on September 29 at our rehearsal.  Did we play it without him the rest of the season?  I don’t remember for sure.  I am listening to it on YouTube right now, and I think I remember my friend Levi directing it, and me feeling like if it couldn’t be Dr. Baker, it couldn’t be anybody but Levi.

On September 29, 2001, after our halftime show, I was walking across the Dome with some of my family members that had attended the game, and Dr. Baker stopped to chat with us for a bit.  He was gushing with compliments for the band that day, and he said so.  He seemed distracted, and in hindsight I’m sure he wasn’t feeling well already, but he was so willing to stop and chat with me.  That was the last time I ever talked to him.

So many details get lost over time.  You remember certain things, and you forget others.  This is my memory of the events, and any errors are mine.  Dr. Baker had a great influence on me in a short period of time.  I worked with his secratary for my work-study job, and that’s probably the only reason he knew me apart from anyone else on the field.  He asked me to be on the leadership team my sophomore year, and I think I was the only sophomore member of leadership that year.  He pushed me and led me out of my comfort zone.  He always, always got a quality sound out of a band.  He instigated a fiery work ethic that is in me to this day, and I hope will be part of who I am forever.  In so many words, he would ask us if we wanted him to make it easier or harder and better, and we always asked him to make it harder.  And then we did the hard thing.  You can always do more and better than you know, and Dr. Baker knew how to get that ‘more and better’ out of you.  He kept moving the bar up, and we kept reaching it.  After working with Dr. Baker, you set your own bar higher.  You ask people around you to set the bar higher for you.  And that is his legacy.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Morey
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 13:32:48

    Great blog! It’s great to hear about Dr. Baker from one of his more recent students!

    I was in the marching band when he was band director at Parkway West High School in Ballwin, MO. He always pushed us, and he got good results out of us. Somehow we won our first national competition for the Fiesta Bowl in ’84-’85. He was an exceptional band director.

    The last couple of years, I’ve been playing bass for the Parkway Faculty & Friends Big Band, and we get together just once a year to play for the annual John Baker Memorial Concert in June. It’s been great fun and a good way to honor him. We all miss him!


  2. carolina
    Dec 01, 2011 @ 23:42:15

    Just found your blog and this post. Many times I miss Dr. Baker, wished I could have made it to Homecoming this year.
    I remember wanting to be a support to you students but I was grieving the loss of a close friend and wondering if I helped at all. John had helped me grieve the sudden loss of my mom just 9 months prior to his death. It was a tough year to get through.


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