By Krystal Fowler - Lifestyle editor
The Centerville community lost a long-time resident and law enforcement officer on Friday, Jan. 27.
Jerry Baker, who served with the Iowa State Patrol for 31 years before retiring in 1997, joined the force in 1966. His father-in law was also in the patrol and urged Baker, who worked for the Auxiliary Police Force in Grinnell, to join.
Baker asked to be assigned to southern Iowa. He had grown up in Oskaloosa and both of his parents were from Missouri. After he was assigned to Centerville, he and his wife Liz decided to stay. There second and third children were born here and over the years, Baker gave up some promotions in order to stay in the community.
Throughout his career, Baker had some very interesting assignments, including several stints working on riot duty in the 1960s and 1970s on college campuses protesting the Vietnam War, near the Black Panther's headquarters in downtown Des Moines and during labor union confrontations by meat packers. He also worked the 1981 prison riot by Fort Madison inmates.
Even with all the riots he worked, Baker told correspondent Curt Oden in 2006 that his most notable job assignment was during the Rathbun Lake dedication in 1971. President Richard Nixon had come to the dedication and Baker was assigned the task of designing an escape plan to get the president back to Ottumwa Airport in case of an emergency. He was also to personally drive the president during the escape. Luckily no emergencies happened during the president's visit.
One of Baker's proudest moments in the patrol was starting the "Trooper Teddy" program in Iowa with his wife Liz. Baker brought the program to Iowa in 1990. It gives out teddy bears to children involved in traumatic events like car accidents, abuse situations, or when their parents are arrested.
He told Iowegian reported Patsy Cincotta in 1997 that the bears really helped children who are traumatized saying, "They help the kids a lot. They can be crying and screaming and you can't even get them to listen to you; but when they see that bear and grab onto it, they immediately calm down."
The Trooper Teddy program continues to this day, with each trooper in the state carrying two bears at all times. Iowa State trooper Kevin Stallo, who took over Baker's position when he retired said, "Each time one of our troopers hands out a Trooper Teddy, they're just carrying on Jerry's legacy and that's something he and his family should be really proud of."
Baker and his wife Liz ran the teddy bear distribution directly from their home in Centerville for nearly 10 years until the Iowa State Trooper Association took it over.
Stallo said when he took over for Baker he was told several times that he had big shoes to fill.
"What I liked about him was when he had an opinion he wasn't afraid to mention it," said Stallo. "And one thing he taught me about the job, he said, 'There's more to it than just writing tickets.'"
Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson remembered Baker as a mentor for other law officers.
"Jerry was a good mentor towards a lot of law enforcement people," said Anderson. "Southern Iowa had a lot of respect from law enforcement officers, not just state troopers."
He also remembered his as a good dedicated officer.
"He would always say that sometimes a finger waving when they're speeding or just even a verbal warning was always as good and got further than making somebody have to pay a fine," Anderson said.
Law enforcement wasn't Baker's only career. He also ran his own business, Baker Electric, but retired from that around the same time he ended his law enforcement career.
Baker's first wife passed away in 2000 and he married his wife Louise Lippert in 2001. Together they traveled around the midwest indulging in one of Baker's greatest passions, rail cars. Baker would collect abandoned rail cars from fields and fix them up to be ridden on rail lines throughout the midwest. The self-propelled, gas engine rail cars were originally used by the railroad to inspect the track. Baker enjoyed taking out family and friends in the small vehicles and exploring the countryside. He would ride the Appanoose County Railroad two to three times a month, mostly on the weekends.
Gary Craver remembered Baker as a good friend.
"I started as a dispatcher on the Centerville Police Department in May of 1966 and he came down to Centerville in June of 1966, so I worked with him for thirty-some years," said Craver. "He was always willing to help people out. There's just a lot of memories there."
Steve Fogle Construction and Excavating plans to start a scholarship in Baker’s name to go to a student attending the Indian Hills Community College building trades program.