John Henry Baker
Baker, poker player, musician, family man, and artist extraordinaire,
formerly of Eau Claire, passed away February 17, 2020, in Madison at the
home of his daughter, surrounded by his family, following a long battle
with heart disease, COPD, and cancer.
He was born August 22, 1941 in Eau Claire, the second son and fourth
child of the late LaMoine Henry Baker and Mary Jane (Melville) Baker.
Shortly after Johnís birth, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and Johnís
father LaMoine enlisted in the Navy. During the remainder of the War
John resided with his maternal grandparents Warren and Elizabeth
(Patterson) Melville, in Shaw Town, in their house built by Elizabethís
father Tobias Patterson (ďbuilt with a keg,Ē said Johnís grandmother,
though the house is still standing and inhabited today, which speaks to
Tobiasís construction capabilities), where there was no running water
and where John experienced once-a-week baths during the War with water
heated in a copper boiler on the wood stove.
Despite sustaining significant heart damage a couple years after the end
of the War as a result of Rheumatic Fever, and despite his doctor
telling his parents not to expect him to live long and certainly not to
live beyond childhood, John defied the odds, most probably due to his
paternal grandparents Floyd Henry Baker and Emma Cassie Mikesell Baker,
who hauled him off to Mondovi and kept him in bed for six months in
order to prevent any strain on his already inflamed heart, and then
later on due to the concern and ministrations of Drs. Mohammad Jaghlet
and Sal Obaid (these amazing Syrian immigrants likely extended Johnís
life by three to four decades, demonstrating the insanity, ignorance,
and bigotry of the current travel ban; the family extends their
heart-felt gratitude to these doctors, and others, for keeping John
alive for almost eight decades).
During the time that John spent half a year of his childhood in bed
propped up on pillows in his paternal grandparentsí home in Mondovi
trying to avoid further heart damage, various relatives brought him
history and civics books, and his treasured Viewmaster, with slides of
national parks, and large colonial cities on our great nationís East
coast, which sparked a life-long desire to travel.
Johnís Grandma Emma also ensured that although he was kept largely
immobile, he nonetheless finished not only his schoolwork, but also his
weekly Sunday School lesson, in order to keep up with his classmates.
Once John had recovered from Rheumatic Fever to the point that the
family doctor -Dr. Buckley- thought that he was no longer in danger of
sustaining further heart damage from normal activity, John was permitted
to attend Camp Cheteck in the summers, and later sent his children into
fits of laughter, regaling them with stories of Camp Chetek visitor
Reverend ďWinnĒ Johnson absurdly railing on about marbles, cards, comic
books, and jacks being the sinful work of the devil.
John started working as a gradeschooler delivering newspapers, then
moved on to being a stock boy at Kermís grocery on Water Street.
Although Johnís father LaMoine was a religious man, LaMoine favored hard
work above all else, and therefore let his children play hooky from
church if they had to work. John eagerly offered to work Sunday
John also was a Boy Scout, Although his work obligations prevented him
from attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, nonetheless achieved, and was a
lifeguard at Camp Phillips. And not only that-- he was football manager,
student counsel, prom king, junior class president, first chair baritone
horn player, and pep band director.
On November 9, 1963, he married the love of his life, Wendy Lea Dole,
who he met while playing baritone horn in City Band (she played French
However, baritone horn wasnít all he played. Due to a random roll of the
genetic dice, John inherited his fatherís ability to play many
instruments by ear with perfect pitch within a couple hours of putting
his hands on them, and was a whiz on any instrument that passed under
the roof of his house. If you asked him to ďplay thus-and-such,Ē he
could do it, as long as he had heard it at least once or twice before.
At one point during the Vietnam War, John attempted to enlist in the
Navy, but after a doctor listened to his heart during his physical
during induction in Milwaukee, John was given a medical discharge and
Despite certain limitations due to his heart injury, John still enjoyed
physical challenges including routine cross-river swims on the Chippewa
River and city-wide bike rides.
After graduating from what was then known as the Wisconsin State
Teachers College, John worked as a social worker for Eau Claire County,
before being hired by the state to perform financial auditing. He and
Wendy raised their three children in Eau Claire until moving to Altoona
Spending time with his family was central to Johnís life; when he had to
go out of town for work, he would bring his wife and kids with, to La
Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, and elsewhere.
John loved playing and listening to music, from Beethoven to Rossini to
Benny Goodman to the Trashmen. He transmitted his love of music to his
children while simultaneously teaching them history, home renovation,
roofing skills, automotive repair, and a healthy skepticism for
He also found it entertaining to awaken his children Sunday mornings by
playing Reveille on the trumpet outside their doors. And as far as the
fine arts goes, not only did John transmit his love of music, he
transmitted his love of the visual arts, spending many hours teaching
his children to draw-- cars, mountains, islands, houses, palm trees, and
John had a passion for the wonders of our natural world, and on several
occasions took his family to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Death
Valley, and Sequoia National Parks, to the Badlands, the Rockies, the
Sonoran Desert, the Great Salt Lake, the Grand Canyon, and other
marvels. John also had a passion for history, and brought his family to
Monticello and Washington DC, and to many Civil War battlefields.
After retiring in 1996, John and Wendy got a good deal on a second-hand
motor home and traveled the west with their two cats, Pixie and
Whiskers. When Johnís heart finally failed to the point that travel was
no longer an option, he still had access to his precious books, and then
the internet, where with a few clicks of a mouse he could visit Mesa
Verde or the Teton Range again.
In 1999, John and Wendy moved to the Town of Drammen, where they resided
until 2017, when Johnís failing health forced them to move back into
town. In 2019 he and Wendy sold their home in Eau Claire and moved in
with their daughter and family in Madison.
John is survived by his wife Wendy, daughter Andrea and her husband Eric
of Madison, daughter Kathleen and her husband Jim of Des Moines, son
John of Eau Claire, and his grandchildren Hailee of Eau Claire, Kai,
Aiden and Sophie of Des Moines, Hypatia and Elsie of Madison, Nicole of
Cristalina, Brazil, and Andrico who presently resides on a commercial
fishing boat somewhere in the Bering Sea.
John is further survived by siblings Mary Ellen (Glenn) Moser of
Wilmington, DE, Joann (Terry) Halvorson of Fall Creek, Sue Moseley of
Kennesaw GA, Jane Gore of Seattle WA, and Cindy (Dan) LaVelle of Eau
Claire, sisters-in-law Sally (Schultz) Baker of Hallie, Sonjia (Edison)
Dole of Eau Claire and Kathleen (Tom) Anderson of Green Bay, and
numerous nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews.
He was predeceased by his brother Robert (ďBobĒ) of Hallie, and
brothers-in-law James Dole, Bob Dole, Bob Ures, Charlie Gore, and Carl
In accordance with Johnís wishes, he will be cremated and there will be
no funeral, although a Celebration of Life will be held March 28, 2020
at the Eagles Club, Chippewa Falls, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Memorials may be made to Johnís favorite charities, namely the Southern
Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, or to the charity of your choice.