Sunday, November 12, 2023
2:00 PM EST
People's Church of Kalamazoo
1758 10th Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Life Story / Obituary
Michael Dennis Baker
Born: June 19, 1944
Died: October 7, 2023 (at age 79)
The oldest child of Lucille Neubert Baker, a nurse, and Wallace Baker, a psychiatric hospital administrator, Michael in his early years was encircled by a tight-knit family of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who were his best friends---his only childhood friends. They all knew small farm Life in Michigan and frequented the hands-on world of 4-H, where the skills of growing food, caring for animals, canning, baking, and forging community were focal points of daily life.
Recognized as a small child for his remarkable math abilities, Michael was often placed on a table and asked by the adults to compute large numbers, which he invariably did. He was praised as a youth by a math teacher, Gil. He and our dad became lifelong friends. Michael grew to be the son Gil never had; he supported this teacher for many years until Gil’s death decades later.
After three years at the University of Michigan, Michael spent four more in the US Air Force as a Chinese translator. Flying dangerous missions over Southeast Asia in the Vietnam era, living in Okinawa and Thailand, learning the cultural richness, and sensing the gaps in our own understanding set him on a lifetime path of looking for non-violent solutions as a peacemaker. Later, armed with a master’s degree in psychology & counseling, his therapy sessions with clients were laced with his own passionate efforts to help people find growth-oriented answers to their most painful questions and vexing challenges. He understood the role of forgiveness in human relationships but also seemed to recognize that it is most difficult for us to forgive ourselves.
When Dad was a young man with a first house and small children, neighbors thought he was crazy. As they spent autumn days raking leaves into the street for pick-up, Dad spent subsequent days collecting their seasonal debris and hauling it home to mulch our flower beds. He believed in the earth’s capacity to restore itself from last season’s discards through the quiet process of composting---this was long before there were trending N.Y. Times articles about the importance of organic approaches to building new soil to enable next season’s growth. He knew the value of tapping what looked old and folding it into the future. This applied to so much in his life.
During the years when Michael worked for the Social Security Administration in Benton Harbor, our great-grandma Lena came to live with us. Dad could not have been any more kind to that elderly, blind lady. Whether it was listening to her often-repeated stories, making her nightly hot Toddy, or holding her very wrinkled hand on the rare occasions when we went out for a meal---our father was the definition of compassion.
When we were youngsters, he spent countless hours in the yard with us---pushing small bodies on a homemade swing in the summer, building snow elephants in the winter. As our needs changed, so did his outreach, always playing music and offering books to engage us, always relating to our changing cast of characters, befriending each one. As our little kid barriers turned into big kid problems, he supported, chided, picked up, listened, responded, loved. He loved us at every turn.
It was a privilege to have Michael Baker as a parent. It was a gift to know him as an adult----to get to know the incredible breadth of his interests: philosophy, psychology, politics, history, and spirituality, with a rich, challenging reading list for each; the natural world of living things, rocks and minerals, which he collected with abandon; cross-cultural art, especially African. When possible, he tried to buy directly from artists he felt he could communicate with and fairly compensate.
This breadth was outmatched only by his depth of soul. Our dad, our grandfather, our friend, and our brother, was known for his deep thoughts and for his intense efforts to articulate those. Always a crafter of words, even coining his own, Michael called himself “eclecentric.” He was eclectic and eccentric, and he treasured diversity. He felt grave pain over the fractures in the modern world, the artificial divisions we allow to dwarf us into something smaller than we are called to be---than we are capable of being. Recent years found him writing haiku prolifically. He was working on a book collection at the time of his death. It feels like we may never get over his loss here, but we sense his abiding presence. Hopefully, we will never get over the impact of all the good memories, encouragement, and inspiration he gave and continues to offer each of us. We love you, Papa!
Michael Dennis Baker is survived by his two sisters: Diane and Nancy; by his three children: Jeme, Jesse, and Anna, the loves in their lives, Mike, Heather, and James; by his eight grandchildren: Keelei, Cameron, Cassia, Gavin, Colette, Liam, Holton, and Makena; by his two great-grandchildren: Adaline and Henry; by his children’s mother Doreen; by his beloved friend Naomi… and others too numerous to name. All share our profound sorrow in losing him and our joy in having had him for these years.
A memorial service will be held at 2 pm on Sunday, November 12, 2023 at the People's Church of Kalamazoo, 1758 10th Street, Kalamazoo MI 49009
“If bowls of cherries
Are the food of happiness
Then tend to the tree.”
© Michael D Baker