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John Baker's legacy lives on

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GROUP: (From left) Huntington Township board secretary Tammy Kline, Huntington Township board member Carl Knowles, Huntington Township board President Tim Guy, Professional Piddler’s member Bill Lucker, Professional Piddler’s member Dick Wymer, Jenniffer Baker-Miller, Mike Baker and Professional Piddler Jerry Martin stand in front of the wall dedicated to Jennifer and Mike’s father John Baker.
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BAKER: John Baker stands next to a sign he paid for to sponsor the Lake Clare Fitness Park.
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CLIMB: Alianass Mazouzi, 12, and his 10-year-old sister Yasmin climb on the John Baker memorial wall at the Lake Clare Fitness Park shortly after its dedication on Wednesday.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

John Baker’s legacy of selfless giving will live on in Huntington at a place he held dear to his heart.

He loved the Huntington community so much that he served as a public official on the Huntington Township Advisory Board until his death on Oct. 8, 2018.

As the area just north of Lake Clare transformed from an open field into a fitness park that now attracts people from around the region, John would stop by every chance he could, sometimes more than three times a week, to see how the project was progressing.

His name is now proudly displayed above the rock wall he donated more than $600 to build.

“Our dad had the biggest, kindest heart, so having that up there as a legacy is special to us,” his daughter Jennifer Baker-Miller said.

Jennifer said her father would take her on trips to see the park’s progress, and once the park was built, he would call her weekly to see if she’d seen anyone using the park.

“Every step of the way, he was so proud,” Jennifer said. “This was very special to him.”

He would call her when he heard of groups, like the Marine Corps, using the park for workouts, and anytime his son, Mike Baker, would see families gathered around, Mike would call his father to share the good news.

“He would be very proud of it if he saw it today,” Jennifer said. “He would love to know that it is being used like it is. It was important to him to know that people came out here and people were enjoying it.”

As John’s friends and family met at the park to dedicate the wall on Wednesday night, a family from Pennsylvania climbed across the wall after making a special trip to the area to play at the park.

Khadija Mazouzi said her husband told her she had to bring their son and daughter to check out the park after it caught his eye as he drove his tractor trailer down Business U.S. 24 recently.

“He would be thrilled to death to see all of the kids out here now using it,” Jennifer said as the kids took turns climbing the wall.

John only left Huntington County when he was stationed in South Carolina and Kentucky as a member of the United States Army National Guard or when he traveled with his family. 

He retired from farming on county land in the 2000s, and he was an active member of the Lions Club in Andrews.

He was a former board member of the Huntington County Historical Society, and his family said you could find him at most football and basketball games in the county.

“If there was something going on in this town, he was probably there,” Mike said.

“Especially if it was a fish fry, Jennifer’s husband Steve chimed in, which brought a laugh to the crowd.

John was the Polk Township Trustee and a board member for a time before he became a Huntington Township Advisory Board member, working with former Huntington Township Trustee Tim Guy, who is a current advisory board member, for Guy’s 16-year tenure as Trustee.

“We miss John in the office,” Guy said. “John was an exceptional board member because he really got involved… He was with me from the very beginning. We worked on a lot of projects. The most significant was the fire department.”

Guy said John donated more money than he could keep track of in order to create the Huntington Township Volunteer Fire Department with Andy Zay, Terry Miller and himself, which he called a large undertaking and “political hot potato.”

“It was tough, but we knew what we had to do,” Guy said. “In a lot of ways, it was mission impossible, so that fire department is also a tribute to John Baker.”

With all that John Baker gave to his community, his son and daughter, along with his friends, all said John didn’t ever want recognition.

“I would guarantee that he would say, “No. Don’t put my name on the wall.” But he would have been by here everyday to see if somebody was using it, and if someone was here, his life would have been lit up,” Jennifer said.

“I’m just proud of him,” Mike said. “He wasn’t a rich guy by any means, but he would donate when he thought something was important.”