The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit http://oral.history.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015
TMP 062 Interviewee: Dennis Baker Interviewer: Austyn Szempruch Date: October 24, 2014 S: n Szempruch and we are at Mathews Co unty Library today on October 24, 2014. For the record can say your name please? B: S: And just for the record where were you born? B: I was born in Miami Florida suburbs. S: Oh ok ay Would you like to B: A ctually the Everglades. S: Oh wow ok ay Is there any stories that you might like to start off with today? B: As relates to my childhood or related to Mathews County? S: Relating to Mathews County please. B: Well yes I can tell you a couple stories of Mathews County. My wife and I bought our summer home sight un seen at an auction on the court house steps of Norfolk. Our children we re reaching the point that they did not like to camp and do things with us. We were boring. So we decided we would invest in something that we would retreat to, so this piece of property came up for sale. We bought it sight unseen and when we came here hasing a tarpaper shack in an area which I affectionately refer to as the summer slums of lower Mathews, w here we begin to enjoy this retreat and became a magnificent summer home for us over a period of time. T hat was about forty years ago. But
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 2 one of the more interesting things I like to share with people, which I think is kind of humorous : my wife being a biology major as well as myself we had a natural interest in everything around us and of course we found a large crop of oysters growing along the sho reline of Mobjack Bay Our children who were under the age of ten at that time we were all v ery gleefully collecting these oysters. My w ife they would be edible or not because the waters around here can be contaminated. We took the children, and their little plastic buckets, and our oysters and off we go to find what we though t might be a respectable waterma n who would know if these things were edi so the first do ck we e pull up with our children, their buckets of oysters, our dogs, and we all get out and these men heir boats stopped looked at us and stared with great curiosity as to what we were doing. So we immediately walk up with our buckets and this one man stepped forward who seemed to be the guy who owned the dock, which later we did find out was the case, a nd everybody just quietly listened to what we ha d to say. I proceed to say that we found these oysters on the bay and we would like to eat them and my children are very excited about finding these oysters A nd this is really a culinary delight we thought a great opportunity. A nd could he tell us if these oysters were edible? Then he proceed ed to ask us where did we collect them ? A nd we said, over at Harp ers Creek, which is along Mobjack B ay They were just gorgeous. W e just had three o r four buckets of t hem. We were just so excited. T hey were everywhere. To
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 3 which he said, well they are fine oysters. Y hey are the best oysters you could find in Mathews County. My wife being the biology major and scientific bent more than myself she said, just how do you k now that they are the best oysters in Mathews County? He responded [Laughter] To w hich we immediately realized we had stole his oysters [Laughter] So the end result was he got a big chuckle out of that and we became lifetime friends u ntil his death. So that was our introduction to Mathews. For a long time people down there at all. T hey had what we call a Guinea c M arsh which is over in Gloucester County had . I guess a culture of people they called Guinea men and they talked with a very strange clipped accent and you just cannot pick u p what th eir talking about. A ll of a sudden nd laugh and carry on and carry on. But neverthe less we became friends and we began to realize we were experiencing the decline of a culture which is vanishing off of the landscape of Mat hews County. We fe el very privileged to have had that. S : Yeah I was actually talking to Mr. Hudgins about the Guinea men and he actually was able to t alk a little bit of Guinea speech surprised at because the way t heir speaking English but, you know what I mean ? I B: Yes, yes and they just really take it A nd the faster they talk the less you understand. [Laugher] So anyway, it reminds me of the Gullah language over on
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 4 the i sland s over in Charlest on South Carolina. They would have a very strange clip, almost an English accent in a way. S: Yeah a little bit. B: So , so the w orking water men we had known forty years ago are in the decline. The rea son for that of course is fisheries, environmental laws, the costs of running their boats, the whole economic structure for working on the water ha s really become very stressful. S o you have a pocket of these last survivors, w hich we feel cherished that we to know all of them who are now deceased unfortunately B ut more importantly their widows have become wonderful friends. The wives of the working watermen I think are just as interesting as their husbands were. A nd I think they are the unsung heroes really in Mathews many times. Because ether sea captains or working on boats. They were busy making crab pots, they were shucking oysters, they were pi cking c rabs, they were salting herring. I find that whole lifestyle incredibly interesting and overlooked in a way. S: W hat was your occupation? W hat ha ve you done like jobwise though out your life? B: I ended my career as the D irector of Virgin ia State P arks and Recreation. T all the state parks in Virginia. I w orked my way into the organization and so I ended up retiring as the director, yes.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 5 S: And do you know any sayings or phrases from aro und here? Like the phrases come heres and from heres like do you know any other like saying or phrases from Mathews County kind of like that, anything like that? B: In our end of the county we we are ; always going up the road [Laughter] So we go up the road to the village which is the Court house. So to me that was kind of an interesting thing to overcome was . that kind of expression. You know in the mountains you through the valley or o ver the hill or over the horizon or whatever it is. B ut her e you go up the road. [Laughter] S: And they B: Well yeah, some call it the village some refer to it at the Court house. Which, hub of activity, which is right here. Of course when we came here forty some years ago the department store was still in existence Drug Store was still going, there were a lot of amenities that were very attractive for a rural community. I often say, I feel like Mathews was going in to a time war p in the 30s, just the way their lifestyle. We were always fascinated when we came, there was a funeral and the hearse was going d own the road to one of the cemeteries people would pull off the road and get out of their cars and stand by the car. Which I thought was ju st absolutely fascinating to me. M speed to get around a funeral procession. S o that lifestyle. I also enjoyed, which
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 6 their church chimes usually around noon and late in the evening about 5:30, six clock. Some people find that being intrusive so they do play them that much anymore, w hich I think is sort of unfortunate loss of your culture. S: procession going down the road. Caus e like you said people usually like from somewh ere else they might just g kni t community that people really . every loss is a big loss. B: asked f uneral M up and look at a dead body in an open coffin. That was just mind boggling but way you would go up to the coffin pay your respects to the deceased and to the family. Which, I felt awkward doing that the first time and of course after the service, the grave side service, they a lways had a wonderful . what do you call them? Meal, l ots of food [Laughter] S: Yup, I imagine it was probably a lot of seafood right? A lot of . B: Most were covered dishes. Although I will say about the seafood part, my wife who ran a lot of educational programs would bring some of her students down here to appreciate the lifestyle here We have befriended, at that time, the people who actually mad e their nets and who were c hampion fillet ers of fish and champio n crab pickers, and oyster shuckers. What she had done, she ha d negotiated with this waterman I described in my earlier remarks. H e would clean
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 7 his dock up so she could bring her chartered bu s of students down here. Her students were usually all teachers or educators. They, the watermen and their wives would bring covered dishes to serve to her students, which was q uite a treat. I mean, now, see. But that was just amazing and they took great delight in bringing their favorite corn pudding or their preparation of an oyster casserole or their crab dips or t heir crab cakes. And of course cla m chowder was always a very favorite one too. S: And have you gotten into like, th e crabbing and oystering? I s that like a hobby ? O r are you big into that kind of cause I know you said you and your family like picked up some oysters when you first came here but B : We were more consumers than . that a lot of hard work [Laughter] S: Yeah. B: oyster gardening, s ome people are do that as a hobb y. No but w e have so many nice friends if I pu t the word out I needed some fish like I ving a couple fish, I got a bucket of fish [L aughter] a bucket of fish. Well, for Pe t e 's sake I mean but t thoughtful. T very generous. S: A i t seems like the easier way to do it. I mean nice enough to give you some fish th it or doing it yourself. [L augh ter ]
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 8 B: Which, : I think some of the come heres d o not take time to get to know what I call the indigenous people S: Right. B: Or the dynasty families. You probably have interviewed what I call some of the dynasty families. T here are Hudgins es of m any branches; some sa The only thing I can say about that from my have anything to do but get in their boats a go up a creek and find somebody to have an engaging relationship with and produce many of these Diggses and Hudgins es and wh oever they all are. [Laughter] But how fortunate we a ll are, So wh S: Right. B: generous and they have a wonderful sense of humor. If I had anything to be critical of us who come here is that we bring our trappings with us that we do not take time to shed ou rselves of our previous lives, to become immersed in the nd I thoroughly enjoy that. S : Yeah, actually, I just got done interviewing Mr. Hu dgins and I had also interviewed . I believe it was Mr. Robert Montague and I know that he had t old me that they were also a very important family in Virginia.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 9 some of the more . elite. I do but I think you know what I mean. But anyways B: portant that you find that out. When you know where they stand in the soc ial standing in the community, t hey bring a different twist to the story of Mathews. S: Yeah. B: I just find that tricky. I love knowing people. S: Yeah definitely and just finding out . when we found out that we might be coming here, like half a year ago we were all ex cited and we were all because know anything about it so I just thought it was a really great opportunity to kind of just find out about the community and everything. And so . I f getting near the holidays now. H ow do you guys celebrate the holidays? Do you have any special traditions that you do or maybe like with your neighbors or something or anythi ng like that? B: Here in Mathews or with my family or? S: Yeah here in Mathews. D o you celebrate it with your famil y in any kind of special way, any kind of special traditions or dishes or anything you guys may prepare? Just out of curiosity anything relating to the holidays that might not be specifically . You know what I mean ? I t might be special to your f amily, that you do . d o you want me to reword the question? I might have worded that a little weird.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 10 B: how to answer S: Oh ok ay it wrong. B: [Laughter] Well . m y backgroun d will probably explain the way I want to or third generation Floridian. Ok ay, so my lifestyle was very remote, very isolated [Laughter] know if yo familiar with the s tate of Florida or not but we lived off the Tamiami T rail on a feeder ditch in an abandoned di ning car that was used by the crew that dug the canal. My father had renovated this hous e which is ours that had thirty so me windows in our living room [L augh ter ], which made it kind of interesting. Anyway for us to have a social life as such we would have t o go into . whatever it is. it could be Miami Springs or it could be Hialeah or it could be Allapattah whic h was in the suburbs o f Miami, wh ere that was quite a social adjustment. S to have family reunions . w hich was fairly typical I think of that generation, it was always a family gatherin g. It was always like a family I mean any special event required ev erybody got together. I t was like going to grandmother s house on Sunday or a tradition of that sort. In our family at that time it was always based upon something that we killed or we harvested, e i ther fish, rabbits, deer, tur tles, gators, whatever it wa s. [Laughter] So, we would all gather and we would feast upon our harvests [Laughter ]. So the women were very diligent in making hushpuppies and all the like complimentary things, I can recall that beef was something that was very foreign to me when I went away to college. A lthough there is a lot of beef in central Florida in southern Florida
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 11 growing up. I mean most of our meat was wild. [L aughter ] So to answer your question, my collective family is now waning a s we one who ran away from the state the furthe re st, when I realized my thumb could get me out of that place. But we retreat; we get together every so often which gonna do this Thanksgiving. S: Oh cool. B: So my immediate family all live in Charleston South Carolina area. So yes. get together and it will be a very special occasion U sually during those celebrations, we reflect on my parents and their lifestyl e. My mother lived to be ninety seven, my father lived to be ninety five, and so they were part of that generation They were from Florida so they were part of seeing that change and we were the offspring of their lifestyle. So we take the time to share our family stories with our grandchildren and our great gran dchildren my brother and sister o ral history presentation [Laughter] S: Yeah [Laughter] B: We just tell tales, you know. S: Yeah. Would you like maybe tell me a little bit about your p arents? I mean any stories about your parents perhaps? B: Oh yeah, My father was an avid outdoorsman; he used to lead hunting parties occasionally in the glades. He had a passion for that and was very talented in that arena. He supplemented his income by going in the Miami area, working i n
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 12 the airline industry w hic h at that time was Pana merican, Eastern, and National; all of those are deceased airlines in some capacity. My mother was a very genteel well read for her generation and insisted wherever we lived we had certain manners and grace. That was one of her I mean as p rimitive as we lived sometimes, it was amazing to us that we had any social skills [Laughter] My mother w e lived out there for so long pretty much all the way to my junior year I guess in high school. W e laugh; my br other and sister would laugh talking about our mother. W hen we get ready t o go to school in the morning, w e had to walk about two an d a half to under three miles out to the Tamiami T rail and wait for the bus that was coming for us out of Dade County. It was coming out to pick us up, us and a couple of Native Americans who lived across the ditch, the Indians [L aughter]. And down the road from where we used to live was the wintering residence of the Ringling Brother d warves So I grew up kind of pa ranoid c ause these short people, I always felt were ether looking at my c r otch or my navel [laughter], so I had great anxieties [laughter]. Well my mother in preparation for us the go to school and I being the oldest of our two m y brother and sister she would go out and she would bang on the side of the house before she opened the screen door to see if any snakes would fall down over the door. Then she would use my Red Ryder B B gun and then she would eradicate the snakes, [Laughter] so then . i n a way I think I was traumatize d I think I am still traumatized. When you grown up in that kind of environment you always felt like some thing wants to eat you or simply grab you for dinner. S: Yeah. [Laughter]
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 13 B: worried about those things that were living in the bushes S: Right exactly. [Laughter] B: Anyw ay, she always had an absolutely magnificent sense of humor. I would say our mo ther made us learn to laugh at ourselves. She jokingly would tell me that she k new that I had a very large nose and very big ears and sometimes resembled Dumb o the e lephant but she still loved me no matter what I looked like [Laughter] Anyway . my father being the typical gatherer of the family, y ou know bringing in the harvest the bag full of rabbits that he had sh ot, or the ducks, or the fish, s he would prepa re them for our meals and did a magnificent job with it. My father was an absolutely delightful story teller about his te chniques of harvesting things. I hate to us em cause my grandchildren get upset. S: Right. B: [Laughter] You mean my great grandfather went out and killed it? Yeah, he got a big gun he went out there and he blast the hell out of them [Laughter] So I now use the word harvest. M y daughter said I should be a little more genteel. Anyway so we would eat o ur harvest [L aughter], so lots of funny stories yeah. One I would love to share, m y brother and sister and I when we were on weekends wh en we were living way out there, kind of boring. We used to sit on the Tamiami T rail and watch cars go down the trail. We were always fascinated by these cars cause they had all these license plates from different states
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 14 sit in an Australia n watch these cars come by and say, well there comes a car from New York I wonder what New York is like. So fantasize what we thought that b ig state would look like. lk the can al banks and pick up C oke bottles, which we would turn into the local store, down there where the midget s lived [L augh ter] T he short people. S: Yes. B: T he height challenged people. . [Laughter] S: It u have to say is perfectly fine. [Laughter] B: Politically correct I believe [L aug hter ] A nyway. So one day our li ttle boat that we used to pull ourse lves across the canal broke loose, and it had floated down the canal. My brother, sister, and I we were talking : how in the world are we gonna get across the canal so we could look for bottles ? S: Yeah. B: They were like a penny a bottle or something like that, some absurd amount of mo ney. So we convinced my sister my brother and I my only brother that we would tire her tree down and we would shoot her across the canal, to which she loathes us dearly, still does [laugh ter ]. So we tied her to the tree and we bent th e tree down and we told her to when we bent it down we were going to l et her go and we yelled, let loo s e L et loo s e And so she went straig ht up in the air she turned loose and she
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 15 came down right straight down F ell on the canal bank, which was full of coral rocks being that area, rolled down there and ma tter and the hornet (24:20). And we, cowards that we were, we ran and hid, cause we knew that we would be . d amaged by our mother or our father, who were good with their hands So we love telling that story about ourselves now so . S: Yeah [L aug h ter] B: G od she still has a couple of scars which she claims she got from our abuse. S: Yeah [laughter]. Now you said that your father was the gat herer and your mother was more lik e cooked and what not. B: She did not drive. S: B: No. You know that was not uncommon for that age. S: Right. I was just wondering did she have any like special dishes that she would cook for you guys that might be like her own special thing that she made? B: Oh heavens E verything was special to us cause it was just put together with whatever was around. S: Right right B: [Laugh ter] I f you ran out of it then you had to improvise so -
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 16 S: Maybe like any exceptional dishes that you were like ah man this is like my favorite dishes that my mom makes or something like that? B: Stuffed quail, she did a beautiful job with stuffed quail and cooking the breast of dove T hat was great. I loved the way she prepared fish, more salt water fi sh then fresh water fish ; I thought that was more tasty. I always thought freshwater fish had a terrible odor when it was cooking, but it was still tasty. So she did a fantastic job of preparing gator tail; I thought she did a nice job with that. So, yeah. All of them are kind of special. S: Yeah. When she stuffed quail what would she stuff it with? B: Stale bread. S: Oh ok ay, yeah. B: [Laugh ter ] O S: Right. Do you have any child hood stories that stuck out to you in pa rticular, that B: . Well the X rated? S: What? B: X rated? S: Well it can be anything Just any childhood stories at all that you want to tell, it s fine.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 17 B: Well my mother and my I said my brother and I when we get ready to this is a fun little side story. She would say be fore we go bed at night up until I guess about nine, ok ay, you boys you go up and drain yo ur pickles before you go to bed, o k ay which to us that meant our reproductive organ, ok ay? [ Laughter] So off we w ould d o this thing It was later when we went in to the grocery store in in jars. My brother and I we stopped and we said, oh, my Lord [L augh ter ] all those little boys [Laugh ter ] We still laugh about that. Are we finished yet ? S: O h , then th d like. B: S: f y ou want to ke ep going then we can keep going, i f you i ther however long you want to do or to about fifty minutes e ither one. S o what would you like to do? . I mean, you have any more stories B: Oh I could tell you stories all day long. S: Oh ok ay, B: M y father taught my brother and I how to go bunny bopping on the canal banks of Florida. S: What? B: Bunny bopping.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 18 S: What does that mean? B: were these short eared rabbits that hop around the canal banks. It was one of our interesting food sources so we would go gathering our bun nies. A nd the way we would do that is that we had baseball bats a night an d these marsh rabbits come out. I think now snakes are eating them but anyway, the rabbits would hop around the canal bank If you put a bright ligh t on a rabbit paralyzed. As long as you ght between you and the rabbit, you could walk up behind the rabbit and you just take a club and go bump! Bump them in the back of the he ad and you bopped a bunny. S: Yeah. B: Put him in a bag and take him home and later skin him. I used to find that kind of morbid [laughter] b ecause other things at night crawl like snakes and other things that liked to eat rabbits [Laughter] So anyway w e laugh about that a lot, going bunny bopping wit h our dad and coming back with how many rabbits did we need to have. S: Yeah. B: W S: So you had to like eat it rather quickly?
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 19 B: whatever, so yes sir. That was little fun stories we like to tell about our experience with bunny bopping. S: [Laugh ter of about bunny bopping before. I am from Florida but I never heard of bunny bopping. B: Oh you are? S: Yea h. B: [Laughter] Oh what part of the state are you from? S: Well, I was born in Orlando but I was raised in Naples B: Oh yes. S: And then moved to Brooksville, have you ever heard of Brooksville? B: No. S: Oh B: Ok ay S: I now I live in Gainesville and I go to the B: Oh al l right. So you were on the west coast area? Yeah. S: Yeah. B: That was kind of wild and primitive, out there other than Naples [Laughter]
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 20 S: Yeah, yeah [laugh]. B: We used to do a lot of fishing over in the Tampa area when I was growing up we used to pack up and go down there and go fishing. S: What kind of fish would you catch? B: Well a va ri e ty of fish, red fish primarily. My father used to do a lot of tarpon fishing which we used to sell the scal es off the tarpon. Really artsy craftsy people wanted to make all kinds of things out of tarpon scales. A story comes to mind on the tarpon fishing: when we were fishing down in southern Florida down around the . one of the bridges going down the Florida Keys. We used to walk the waterline that went down the Key West. A nd heads, the support that holds the bridge up, like a big patio. [Laughter] So crawl down there things. At night we would go up on the bridge because the traffic would slow down and we could see cars coming down the bridge, on these bridges from Bahia Honda and Sev do our tarpon f ishing on the tide charges. S o my fath er used to tie us to the bridge for two reasons: one when these buss es would come through, after, t he air would just [laughter], suck you away. So I do have some anxieties So into my he has never forgive n me for doing this: we used to make all of our own fishing poles and so it was a l ot of work to do this. You wrap them, put the eyes on it, all that stuff So we were down there t arpon fishing and lo and
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 21 my pole [L augh ter ] This thing came up out of the water and did its tail dance out there and it we nt back down and I said, oh my G od My reel was goi ng just as fast as it was going, rrr! My father was yelling at me, put your thumb on it B rake it brake it brake it reel it in! I said, hell no! And I threw the reel and pole all over [L augh ter ]. S: Just in to the water? B: Just threw it. monster [Laughter] S: B: Oh not at all, no [laughter]. So we have lots of stories we tell on each other, yes. S: Yeah [laughter]. Do you have any othe r stories between you and your dad that really stick out to you? B: Ah . Liste n we had a very close relationship just h e never quite understood when I decided I want to go to college, w hich was completely foreign to him t hat was just not som ething th at he could relate to. That I wanted to leave . that environment. S: Right. B: I want to get out of here [Laughter] S: Where did you go to college?
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 22 B: I ended up going to a small u niversity in North Carolina that I got a full ride scholarship to Randolph Macon which is a school outside of Richmond and yes. Then I took some graduate work at William & Mary So I thumbed out of the state not having a college to go to I just kne w I wanted to go somewhere cause most of my friends were pretty much departing to all these wonde rful places that were out of the state. I did have an offer from Florida State a small scholarship but no t realizing what it really cost, I was not eligible to get into school so I thumbe d all the way up through Georgia to North Carolina. In North Carolina at that time I thought I would like to go to a school a small private school So I went there and all I had was like fifteen dollars at that time and that was a disaster to deal with that. So I faced the reality that I was gonna have to thumb back home not be ing accepted anywhere in school, a miserable failure in my mind. So I sto pped at this Y M C A in Charlotte North Carolina where one of the residences that was there a gentlemen said I oughta go out to the school outside of Charlotte, Wingate, and make an application. There was a small school that was coming along very nicel y so I said, well what have I got to lose? So I thumbed out there and I decided by that time see I was kind of a skinny kid, kind of ugly aughter] That appeared later, okay? So I went there and I sat outside this president of the school and I said , and the college chaplain came and asked me to stay at his house that n ight and the president should come back the
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 23 next day which I went to meet with him. I told him I was very anxious to go to school; it was my ticket out of Florida, and that t a br ight kid, I was more of an over achiever than anything else, and coul d he get me in and let me work t his is like latter part of the summer and I would stay right there and work and He gave me a vote of confidence and said, al l righ t you can mow campus gra ss and clean the While there I had the good fortune of being fairly active . Why am I telling this story? [Laughter] S: en remember how we got here. B: Okay, well [inaudible 36:09]. While I was there I got involved with student activities and politics and became a host. I had the opportunity to host M ister and M issu s Cannon of Cannon Mills out of Kannapolis and Mr s. Lammot du Pont from New Jersey blah, blah, blah Th en they gave me a scholarship. T hey would pay for all my education if I would work and maintain a B average, which I did. Then I went off to that first year there I was employed to work in a human rel ations retreat in the mountains of North Carolina for a very active Jewish family, M ister and Missu s I. D Blumenthal Thoroughly e njoyed that and manage d the estate for some time. While I was in my my sophomore year, junior year, I meet this delightful couple wall horseback riding up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina I asked them to come back to the estate that I was managing, be my guests for the night which they accepted an d really enjoyed
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 24 them. N ow registered letter and that was the president of Randolph Macon College and he offered me a full scholarship to go to Randolph Virginia, so anyways, well sure, why not ? [Laughter] S: Yeah. B: You know, pack my B V D s and my shirt and away I went [Laughter] S: Yeah. Why not? B: S: And you said when you applied to get in to Florida State or you tried to did you apply you said? B: Yes I went there, I did not make an early application I just went k nocked on the S: Florida State. W hy was that? B: standing. I a lways viewed myself as being a well rounded person [laughter]. S: Yeah. B: Limited financial resources. S: Yeah.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 25 B: w ent to Gainesville. I did go to Boys State when I wa s in high school. So I did all that good stuff. S: Yup . B: Time to go? S: Oh no, I was just checking the time is all. B: I do need to go. S: Oh ok ay Well then B: No ter ]; you can ask me what you want. S: Oh, but if you do have i ther way. B: [Laughing] Yep. S: her stories from Mathews County? B: Oh Mathews County, yes. When I moved to Ma d describe myself as a cat without a sand box. S: Ok. B: I mean here I am, my wife was still working and we had our summer cottage so I came down here. She said, go down there and get involved with Mathews, and so I came down here I just looked and said, oh my goodness what do you get
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 26 involved with around here? You know [L augh ter ] two streets, Churc h Street and Main Street And l ots of churches S: Right B: So I came down here and I spent time reading the local paper I read all the obituaries to who. That was kind of interesting to me and I had a little sheet that said, a Hudgins he re and a Hudgins here, and they married a Diggs and Diggs married the And I said, well wow this is really incest [Laughter] S: B: [Laughter all: ay anything about these people. Then I said, well maybe I should get involved with some civic you know, being in charge of a large organization I had over five hundred people under my supervision and all these parks. T his was just like, oh my goodness, M athews was like one of my parks [L augh ter ] So I started attending various organizations, just asked if I could come watch the Rotary Club, the Ruritan Club, the Lions Club, bla h bla h bla h I just wanted to see who went to these things and out of that I decided that Rotary would be a good organization here to be involved in. And in that process I Earl Soles who you may or may not S: Oh yeah, I did meet Ea rl yeah.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 27 B: He went to Ran dolph Macon the same time I did, a nd his first cousin was my best friend. Earl s my good friend too. S: Right ok ay B: So Wayne his cousin and I used to get together and smoke cigars and drink scotch and talk abou t what we could do for Mathews. You know, how can we make this happen ? B cause most people thought perhaps I was from the North from New York. I had a large nose, I had all those characteristics which were unpleasant to these people here [laugh ter ]. So Wayne and I along with another guy whom you may or may not interview is Jay Black if you get a chance to interview Jay you should S: Ok ay B: And the three of us we formed a group called MC SEED, which is Mathews County Sustainable Economic Development initiative. We would hold these little seminars that said what we wanted to do for Mathews. Believe it or not been what ? T en fifteen years ago I guess. A lot of things did happen; we were able to create the bay schools formed out of that, the Blue Ways Trails, the bike trails, the community foundation, M.C.V.C all of that came out of that initiative. My involvement with M athews in that arena has been very enjoyable, got to meet a lot of the local people. I call them local indigenous people. S: Right.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 28 B: [Laugh ter ] and made some interesting mistakes. W hen we were having these little discussions I thought it would be neat to invite all these people who were interested to come to a bed and breakfast, which is now closed, for an informal oyster roast, think serving local food [L augh ter] S: Mm h m. B: lk about what you think we ought to be doing and none of the local people showed up. No one. W e had some people who were away here show up but no local. S: How come no one showed up? B: It was too uppity. S: Like it was too much of a planned event? The y kind of wanted it to be a little more informal? B: What kind of local people ne ed to go to bed and breakfasts ? Now what we decided when someone came to me and said, Mr. Baker a nd if you had the meeting in a church or if you did it at the scho out. S: Right. B: And I said, oh. I apologized to him and said, ok ay Shoot we went to the elementary cafeteria and w discussions there and then we had more local participation. T hey were familiar with that.
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 29 S: Ok ay yeah B: So it was a lesson well learned. S: Right. B: I wish I had known that whe n I was in the political arena. [Laughter] May have still had a job [L aughter] Well anyway. S: Yeah . So has that been like your main involvement for the last ten fifteen years? Had t B: Oh I was involved with helping create the Blue Ways Trail. I also founded a land trust. The Estenson Property did a lot of work in Mathews on putting conservation easements. Designed and propose d the city byway s here in Mathews. Did the birding wildlife trail. Was very active, involved in the M .C.V.C. here at the T I mean I was just help. S: Yeah. B: I and a team of you went to an overlook. Have you wa S: B: Okay. I hope you will do that. When we can turn that machine off ll tell you. Wayne Hudgins there were four grumpy old men of
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 30 which Earl Soles was one. We had this idea of putting that overlook down there to begin to educate the people in Mathews to have pride of their county and more importantly the light house s that are in the cou nty of historical significanc e. We have two: New Point and Wolf Trap. A county that has no stop lights, no four lane road s, but has two historical lighthouses, just amazing to me. S: Yeah. B: And be as quaint as it is. So we went down there the four of us and we raised the money t o build that overlook. Then we, the four of us, wrote the copy for all the signs and one of our contacts did the drawings for us. That was the first effort on our part hopefully to int roduce the local population in, you should be proud to be in Mathews for the following reasons. its culture, i its seafood industry, contributions to ma n y wars that took place off our shoreline. A nd so that was S: I s there anything else in your life at all that sticks out to you as a major event that you might not have told yet? Perhaps like anything B: No. Besides getting married. [Laughter] S: Oh yeah [laughter]. Any specific event? B: No, I will have to tell you that this a nd I said, c oming along as a white male and having visions of what you think
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 31 ur early twenties that who your spouses maybe and what offspring may look like, all that good stuff. S: Right. B: You have this serotype image, w hich was reinforced with TV coming in to play at that time and the culture we were raised in. The biggest thi ng that has been extremely gratifying to me as an individual, as a grandfather, and as an adult was the fact that our daughter and her husband adopted a child from Guatemala. S: Oh o kay B: Ok ay, and so they asked me d they asked me if I would go with them to Guatemala to get my grandson, which I did. What a revelation, what a revela tion for me. T o go pick up this infant and spend the time getting him processed to come in to the States and become a part of my family was an going on ten, to have an impact to bri ng this child S: Yeah. B: From the third world country and enjoy the fact that he is a Guatemalan Indian, and my daughter has be en very emphatic to make sure that he understands his cultur e and his people as he calls it. S: Right. B: y funny about that. [Laughter] That was a major event and then most recently they adopted yet a
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 32 second child but this time they adopted a young daughter, a young girl on a close d adoption from New Hampshire. So we besides ha ving three other grandchildren, t o ha ve these two adopted children enter our life and to have the capacity to give them o ur love and embrac e them to become a part of our extended family. I laugh when I look at my family photographs we take at holidays or major events. There we are peop le, and then we have this mocha colored child and we have [Laughter] S: Oh. B: I love it. S: Yeah. B: I love it. I love it [laugh]. I just absolutely love it. I jokingly . our son had a child old grandson. S: Mm hm. B: And you know when we were coming along [inaudible 48:55] S: Right. B: So I look at my children, my grandchildren, my grandson from Guatemala, my seventeen year old grandso n, who we had three years of raising him which was really a very special treat and then our granddaughter from New Hampshire. It
TMP 062; Dennis Baker; Page 33 hit me that out of the five children thr ee of them were bastards. And I say that very lovingly. [Laughter] S: Right. B: And society has changed. S: Yeah. B: hat happened that I y our question, yeah I would say that was a big changing event is to h ave an expanded family that went beyond the reaches of what you would consider y our normal circle of associates. S: Yeah. B: So yeah I feel very blessed. S: Okay. Well thank you very much. [End of interview] Transcrib ed by : James Wales, April 2015 Audit edited by: Jessica Taylor, April 2015 Final edited by: Jessica Taylor
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