Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities,
died suddenly at his home in Salem
on June 26. He was 77.
Born in Weed, CA,
Baker and his family moved to
Salem in 1928 and to Vancouver, WA
in 1937. He graduated from Vancouver High School in 1944.
As an adolescent, Baker began to
delve into activities and develop traits he would carry with him
throughout his life: he read widely; made deep and lasting friendships;
eagerly learned all he could about many subjects; developed his rich,
witty, wide-ranging mind; and he fell in love with jazz.
He served in the Merchant
Marine and the U.S. Army Signal Corps during and after World War II.
Baker earned a B.A. in
Literature from Pacific University in 1953 and an A.M. in English from
the University of Chicago in 1956. While in Chicago, he worked as an article
editor and medical writer for the American Osteopathic Association.
In 1957, Baker accepted a position as
half-time English professor/half-time public relations director at
Western Oregon University. After his first year, he was offered the
choice of doing either job full-time. He chose to teach, and did so with
passion and dedication for the next 31 years.
Baker served on many faculty committees.
According to his wife, Janet, he
was perhaps proudest of having
hand in crafting the Liberal Arts Core
Curriculum in the 1970s, and of helping to establish
a faculty union
From 1964 to 1966, he taught at the
School for Translators at the
University of Trieste in Italy
on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Over the years, Baker published articles
in "The Nation;' "Commentary;' "Jazz scene" and other periodicals. He
co-authored, with PL. Van Osdol,
a '71 graduate of WOU, a writing textbook,
"The Wor(l)d on Wheels."
For five years in the 1980s Baker
coordinated the highly popular Monday
jazz jam session at Boon's
Treasury in Salem, each week
bringing in the drums he had bought
and taught himself to play in midlife. He transferred
this new talent to the classroom when he
used his conga drum
in a writing
class to help students understand the rhythms
Upon retiring in 1989, Baker became active
in Salem's civic and political life, but he never lost touch with
campus. Just two weeks before his death, he donned cap and gown again
and participated in the 2004 graduation ceremony.
Baker is survived by his wife, Janet
a '78 graduate of WOU; sons,
Geoffrey of Salem and Phil of Portland;
daughter, Margaret Vallejos of
Tigard; and two grandsons.
As a teacher, Baker's office door was
always open to his students. "Indeed, his heart was always open to
anyone;' Janet Baker said. "He taught and lived in the Socratic manner,
asking probing questions that made students and
see a piece of
literature, the world, the self in a new light:'
memorial service honoring Professor Baker
was held July 29 in Rice Auditorium.
scholarship has been established to honor Baker. Contributions to the
R.S. Baker Memorial Scholarship can be directed to the WOU Foundation,
The Cottage, Western Oregon