Longtime officer ends career, turns an eye toward hunting

58-year-old retiring after serving over 3 decades

October 17, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

On one of those chilly early October mornings when it's impossible to tell if the temperature will stay that way or change, Cpl. John W. Baker begins his 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift with coffee and a Slim Jim at the 7-Eleven on Belair Road.

The Slim Jim is not for Baker, but for Millie, a chocolate Labrador who follows him inside waiting for her morning treat, which she gobbles up. Baker appreciates the morning routine because this is the last day he will do it with a uniform and a badge.

At 58, Baker is heading into retirement, and although he will leave an occupation he has enjoyed for more than three decades, he expects to be busy with activities he has loved for many years but could have only limited involvement with because of his occupation.

"This year I'm going to get in a full deer-hunting season, and it's about time," Baker says.

The season runs through January, allowing plenty of time for Baker to escape into the woods after the roast his colleagues are throwing for him at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bayou Inn in Havre de Grace in honor of his retirement.

People from all parts of Baker's life are expected to attend. They includes officers he has known from other departments, officers and detectives from the Bel Air Police Department, and others who have influenced his professional life.

Baker became an officer in 1971, when he started with the Police Department in Taneytown, his hometown. Things were much different then, he says, because there were no minimum standards courses until 1972, when he went to the Baltimore City Police Academy for seven weeks of training. Today many academy programs are at least six months. After six years with Taneytown, Baker went to the Hagerstown Police Department for 15 months from 1977 to 1978, but found his home with the Bel Air Police Department in October 1978, and he has worked there since.

Detective Kevin A. Williams, who has known Baker for 13 years, refers to him as a "crotchety woodsman."

"With deer hunting I don't have to kill something to be happy," Baker says. "It's just about getting out there and sitting there in the peace and quiet and getting away from everyone. I could live in a place where my nearest neighbor is 50 miles away, and it won't bother me."

Baker lives in Street on his brother-in-law's property, which is where he will do most, if not all, of his deer hunting. In Baker's opinion, Street is no booming suburb, but is also still not Wyoming, Montana, Idaho or a quiet state in the Midwest.

"To me, any location like those places is heaven, and when I say that, other people think, `Oh, he's weird,'" Baker says, chuckling.

There is too much bustle and noise in Bel Air, where Baker works, for his liking, but if he moved to one of the Midwestern states he would not be able to devote time to the Jarrettsville Young Marines.

In December 2002 Baker received a temporary charter for the Jarrettsville Young Marines program, and one month later he started the program's first class. Baker joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 in 1963 and served until 1969. He had a tour in Vietnam but saw no combat. He was in the 2nd Marine Division and says he learned discipline.

"Discipline and structure can help you in whatever you do because it can help structure your life," Baker says. "Once you have some type of self-discipline, you're good to go on many different things."

Baker's Jarrettsville Young Marines program limits classes to 30.

Part of the program involves the Young Marines traveling to camps in other states. This year Baker will be able to send at least one of the youths to the Virginia Leadership School. At the school, some will go to encampments where they still participate in training. Training involves map reading, compass reading and cold weather survival.

"We're not trying to teach them to be a survivalist, but there's all kinds of things that you can encounter in the woods, and I'm into living history, so I can incorporate something from that interest into my Young Marines program," he said.

The part of living history that Baker takes an interest in is the frontier days of 1740 to 1840.

He has participated in the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association and Living History Foundation, which is similar to Civil War re-enactments but goes back to an earlier era.

Baker long participated in living history events but became involved in the National Muzzleloading Rendezvous in Delta, Pa., in 1987, when he met some fellow muzzleloaders and black powder shooters who proposed a monthly competition.

"They proposed the shoot, so I went up there and started doing that, but I saw everybody dressing in the time period and was like, `whoa,'" Baker says. "So I got interested and started checking into it."

Since then, Baker participates in the rendezvous by displaying hatchets, utility knives, scalping knives, skinning knives and other items used by people in the Colonial era.

"Everything had a purpose back then," Baker says, referring to the plethora of knives. "If it didn't have a purpose, there was no sense in having it."

Baker's fellow officers joke about how they think he was born 150 years too late, but Baker ignores them. "Yes, some guys say I was born out of my own time, and times were harder back then," Baker says. "But they were also simpler, and that's why I like the lifestyle."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.