Oldest volunteer feted at center

Retirement leaves time for work in cafeteria, discussing current events

April 19, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Long after most people would have retired, Felix Baker kept working as a salesman for a Catonsville company. Finally, he retired at age 88. Two years later, he began his volunteer career and is still going strong.

Today, Baker is the most senior person at Westminster Senior Center. He will turn 101 the end of the month and recently had an army of people celebrating his longevity at a birthday bash. He will be honored this month for the hours he has volunteered at the center: more than a thousand.

"I usually come in five days a week to help out in the cafeteria," said Baker, who agreed to put his volunteer duties aside for an hour to talk to a reporter, though he was too shy to brag about his volunteer work.

Christy Mullinix, who works at the senior center, organized Baker's birthday party and said his help is invaluable.

"He takes a bus here and arrives about 2 p.m. and stays until 6 p.m.," Mullinix said. "He helps with the evening meal. He gets the milk out of the cooler. He gets the ice water out. He gets the paper plates set out. He's really great."

Baker, who lives in Westminster, shrugs. This is a man who started working as a boy on his family's farm and didn't stop until he retired from his last job at Norman Lohn & Sons, which he held for 17 years.

His story began in Damascus, Va., where he was born April 27, 1899. His family had a small farm there but moved to Tennessee when he was age 10.

"I used to ride a horse to school," he recalled. "It was a one-room schoolhouse. That's all they had back then. We'd put the horse in a barn while we were in school."

By the time Baker finished school, the country was nearing the end of World War I. He signed up for duty but served only three months and saw little action.

Although his family moved to a 500-acre farm in Ellicott City in 1920, Baker stayed behind to study agriculture at the University of Tennessee. He decided it wasn't his calling and became an investigator for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. in New York City.

Eventually, he moved to his family's Maryland farm and worked there for three years. He married at age 39, and he and his wife, Arlyn Leib, had six children: Ann Marie Poskocil, Felix Edward Baker Jr., Lynda Lee Sova, Myra Sue Corbitt, Janet Louise Hardiman and Glen Charles Baker.

Baker worked assorted jobs until his last one at Norman Lohn & Sons.

After his first wife died, he remarried at age 71.

"No kids out of that marriage," Baker said with a robust laugh. His second wife has also died. "Don't have any plans to get married again either."

He started volunteering at age 90.

"I didn't want to be alone. I wanted to get out and be with people," Baker said.

Baker recalled with fondness his first car.

"It was a Ford Model T," he said. "Paid $500 for it."

For a man who has lived more than a century, change must have been the one constant. Asked what he thought was the greatest invention of the century, he responded without hesitation.

"Computers," he said with emphasis. "They're everywhere. You need them for everything. Can't do any banking without them. They're in everything."

While computers don't occupy a great deal of his thinking these days, current events do. He loves to keep up and reads the paper daily.

The most senior man at the Westminster Senior Center predicts which candidate will win the presidential election.

"The governor from Texas," he said. "He's a Republican."

Baker said he loves to go to the center and talk current events with his friends.

"We talk about everything," he said.

He takes walks to keep in shape.

"Every day I go to Wal-Mart and walk around," Baker said. "I come home and eat lunch and then walk some more."

He has no wishes to fulfill.

"I've been able to do whatever I have wanted to do," Baker said."

His helpful hint for longevity is simple.

"Just keep on breathing," he said.

Pub Date: 4/19/00

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