Friday, September 10, 2004

Rick Baker Remembered

Remember Rick Baker? I certainly do. He was a great individual and an excellent writer for the Journal Star. His untimely death created much sadness in the community and created a journalist gap that has never been replaced by the JS. On May 21,1980, Rick wrote “Dealing with state government can at times be like dealing with an enormous, all powerful dolt that simply won’t listen to reason” His article was entitled “Peoria Businessman Tackles State Over Unpaid Bill.” My company had unfortunately received an order from the State of Illinois and when the State unpacked the merchandise, they discovered one item slightly damaged. They would not pay the bill until my company replaced the damaged part. We promptly reordered the part which we had to pay for it because the trucking company had a receiving copy signed by the State that the merchandise was received in good condition. In the meantime the period of time in which the State had to pay their bill to my company elapsed and I was told by law I must hire an attorney to sue the State for payment. This was despite the fact that the State did not deny they owed the money. A year and two letters from then Governor Jim Thompson, who while agreeing with me, stated I still had to sue the State to collect. Baker then wrote his article on my behalf saying “These millions of dollars are being withheld from businessmen who are paying high interest rates on the money while it sits in limbo.”

More than a year later, with help from our local representatives, Prescott Bloom, Mary Lou Sumner and Fred Schraeder, we got paid but lost money on the order.
My local support group working with a Chicago Law firm eventually got the law changed to make sense, no credit to Thompson and an arrogant attorney by the name of Tim Johnson who said “you are only attempting to beat attorneys out of business rightfully due them and that “young” attorneys need the business.” I believe this guy is still being elected each year to Springfield and we wonder why the State is in such a mess!! By the way, Johnson later made the Champaign-Urbana, (he at that time represented that area) newspapers showing a paper clip stuck in his personal voting device so that it would always show he voted whether he was present or not. Terry Bibo asked me for this clipping a few years ago. She never returned the clipping nor never mentioned it in her column. Bibo who was married to Baker at the time of his death also failed to act when I gave her information that some of the Social Clubs in Peoria were hiring a company to solicit funds for their clubs with only 10% of the receipts going to the club and the solicitor keeping 90%. Maybe silence is better because the Journal Star is also a solicitor and suspicion might be cast on where all the money donated to the JS Christmas Fund goes.
If JS has ever issued a public accounting, I apologize but I’ve never seen it. Someone help me out on this one. Maybe Barbara because I gave her the same facts I gave Terry.

Why am I bringing some of these issues up? Because “blogging” gives the little people like me a voice, (albeit small), to compete with media who buy their ink by the barrel and paper by the railcar load. Also, because I am now in County politics and I want to know when County government uses their power to lock out the voice and rights of the people.

Also, the name Big Jim came up and brought back some sour memories. I’ve been around long enough to bring up a few more over the next few months.

Fortunately, most people in politics try to do well by their constituents, back then it was politicians like Sumner, Schraeder, Fred Tuerk and competent and missed, Prescott Bloom.

I close with this quote “We not only praise individual liberty, but our Constitution has the unique distinction of ensuring it”. (Charles Evans Hughes)


Anonymous said...

Yes, there is another person out there in cyberland who remembers Rick Baker! What an amazing journalist. The wonderful thing about Baker is that, even in this day and age, it is still difficult to determine whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. I'd call him one of the truest independents who ever lived.

I was born in Peoria back in '73, and lived in Peoria County for a good chunk of my youth and another of my adulthood, so I am familiar with both Baker and his widow. It seems inconceivable that Terry Bibo has now worked half again as long as a JS columnist than Rick did. He was without doubt the most underrated advocacy journalist in history.

His Mary Doefour stories are still a part of my identity, even 15 years after I first read them... as a native Peorian and one who's lived in both eastern and northern Iowa, well... there's not much else to say. That book is one of my prized possessions, and I was astounded this week to learn that some copies are still hiding out there for sale. Word-of-mouth alone has kept it alive.

Baker would be proud, as tough a man as he could be. I always thought it was supremely ironic that he died almost 10 years to the day after Mary Doefour did. Indeed, he left a void that is still felt, even by Illinois exiles.

Thanks for a brilliant reminder and keep up the good fight!


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Anonymous said...

I just read the Mary Doefour story-I know people related to the woman who disappeared. I was wondering how to get in touch with Rick's widow, because the copy of the book I read is falling apart and I'd like to see about obtaining another one. I work for the newspaper Rick wrote about in Mount Vernon, IA-it's now called the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun.
It was a helluva story.
Does Terry work now for the Peoria paper?
Abbi Swanson

Anonymous said...

The last I heard, and this was in 2002, Terry Bibo, Rick's widow, was still writing for the Journal Star, so that's why I said her career had already exceeded his at the paper (although Rick free-lanced in his later years).

As for the Mary Doefour story... I'm amazed, and yet not surprised, that someone has written about it recently. I own my own tattered copy from the first print in 1989, and I am to the point where I won't even lend it out to trusted co-workers anymore. Only this morning, and this is a fact, I sent cassette tapes of myself reading the book on tape to an old professor of mine in Minnesota who is retiring this spring. I told him plainly that that is the only way he's liable ever to know the book "Mary, Me."

My best knowledge is that Terry Bibo owns the rights to the book today, and is very unwilling to sell them to any entity. So it is up to us readers, so profoundly moved by the story, to tell it by word-of mouth. I was born in Peoria in 1973, went to elementary and high school within 50 miles of Cedar Rapids, and also middle school about 50 miles from Fort Dodge. I knew every single town in that book the first time I read it, around Christmas of 1989... it changed my life forever.

I can still stun people with that story, so I don't like to talk about it very often.

Check out photocopies of The Gazette and also The DM Register for corroboration of the quotes in "Mary, Me." The U of I Library is your best bet... thank God it wasn't blown away by the April tornado. I've seen a bit more from small-town papers in northern Iowa, but I'll save it for later.


Anonymous said...

He is a Dubya-worshipper.

A true and unswerving believer in the divinity of the Dubya.

To him, Dubya is THE true living God: The personification of God on Earth.

And he turns daily to The Dubya for spiritual guidance.

In all things, ask yourself: "What would The Dubya do?"

The answer will show you the light.

I've been waiting six years to tell my parody in so many words... thanks for the opportunity!

Anonymous said...

I worked at WCBU at Bradley from 19987 to 1992 and loved Rick Baker's stuff in the PJS. I was deeply saddened when he was killed in the auto accident.

I have MARY, ME and all three volumes of Rick's collected columns. I do wish Terry would re-issue them, but I suspect she had "gotten on with her life" and doesn't want to be reminded anymore.

The most interesting thing about Rick's columns is that in almost every particular, they could have been written today, about things happening now.

Well, except maybe for the one where he said you could tell who would become the next Russian leader by who looked most like a potato. Putin doesn't, though Yeltsin did!


Anonymous said...

I do know the column to which the last poster was referring. "Rick Gorbachev or Comrade Baker?" Sly, he was.

You should definitely read "Mary, Me" if you can get your hands on it at all. I understand it's in many Illinois libraries, definitely Peoria and also in Chicago 'burbs. Am I the only person in the world who still knows about it? I live near where Myrle Sizer grew up in northern Iowa, and I'm still doing research and awaiting more. This story will never leave me.

I will always be a Rick Baker fan, no matter what the political climate. He was a true independent.


Anonymous said...

I guess I could have actually read your post and seen that you do own the book "Mary, Me." I know only a handful of people who do, so I naturally assumed you'd heard of it second-hand. I also own all four Baker books. I landed the original "Baker's Best" just last spring for the first time, so my collection is finally complete.

As for "Mary, Me," I could start an entire website about that book alone. But it's not something I like to discuss casually. It's the kind of story that interests everyone who reads it, but there are just a few who are moved to their depths. Long story short, the pattern of her life has followed mine, somewhat in reverse. It takes a while to explain well.

Besides everything else, Baker could be just plain funny. One of my favorite columns of his is "Rick Baker Day," where he was watching downtown Creve Coeur for parades and floats shaped like his nose... LOL He remains the great lost journalist of his generation, no doubt. The Jim Croce of newsmen.


Anonymous said...

I'm "the golfer" in Mary, Me. I can be reached at

Jaxon said...

Didn't Baker say that Bob Michel could have become a Russian leader because he looked like a potato?

You have peaked my interest in Baker again. I am trying to find my copy of Mary, Me. My grandpa gave me all the books. I read through them once. I think I may have to read them again.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I mis-referenced the "Russian Potatoes" column. "Potatoes" was the one in which he predicted that Gorbachev would be the next Supreme Soviet Premier, not "Rick Gorbachev or Comrade Baker."

Both volumes of "The Rest of Baker's Best" are a treasure trove of the man's journalism. Easy to get blinded by the selections.

And "Mary, Me" is still the greatest book nobody's ever read. Incomplete though it be.


Anonymous said...

Rick Baker was a wonderful writer. I think he could have written grocery lists and made it interesting. Yes, his widow still works for PJ Star and is a wonderful writer in her own right. Copies of Rick's books are available at most local libraries or through interlibrary loan from a library that has it. I've managed to pick up a few at used bookstores, but I know a lot of people who want them and not many who want to get rid of them.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of "Baker on Klein," a column of Rick's from 1985 or so, about Jerry Klein, a fellow writer at the J-S. Baker said of him, "He could take a garbage can of words and make them sing."

What made Baker great was that he had a real humility to him. He almost seemed to know he might die young, which makes me half-afraid to hit 35 in a few weeks. Baker died at 36.

He wanted to be central Illinois's treasure, and in the end, he did succeed.

Whatever you do, read "Mary, Me" before you die. You won't believe it. There are still a few copies around.

Anonymous said...

For those who might still be spellbound by the story of Myrle and Mary... some interesting insight:

This doesn't work on everyone's computer. Even the Renwick librarian was a little befuddled by it... but I managed to upload some articles and print them out. The most poignant are from the late '30s: 20 years after Myrle went to school there, and 10 after she disappeared. Apparently a few people did remember.

With luck, a few still might.

Anonymous said...

I live in Southern, IL and just happened to come across Mary, Me at my local library. I put down a book I was in the middle of reading to begin reading Mary, Me. That's how powerful the pictures on the cover were. Rick Baker caught my attention and still has it. I truly loved the book and have passed it on to a coworker to read before the library gets it back.
Having worked around developmentally disabled people for thirty years, this story has a special meaning. I can see how things like this can happen, and I could just cry when I think of the poor young school teacher who didn't have a chance in hell back in the 1920's when trying to get people to listen to her. It seems she gained some of her memory, knowing she was a teacher...I wonder if she ever remembered her real name or anything else of her past. Yes, this story haunts me and probably always will, but I'm glad I found that little book at my local library. May Rick Baker rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

It still has a very quiet power, indeed.

Anonymous said...

September 5, 1982

The Job

Before it had just been there and seemed natural--an omnipresent combination of gift and curse; a thing of challenge and drudgery, of camaraderie and confinement, of success and failure, of excitement and boredom.

But the job, for anybody who wasn't born rich and listless, was always there. Everybody had their own factory gate, office building, hospital, brewery or classroom to walk into. Everybody had their own bolt holes to drill, papers to shuffle, temperatures to take, beer to make and students to teach.

And we all sometimes saw ourselves as hummingbirds in too small a cage. We all sometimes cursed the job, felt ignored and improperly rewarded. But it was always there. You had to give the job credit for that.

The job wasn't going to disappear unaccounted for. It was stable and responsible and ever-waiting. As long as we treated the job well, we had no real worries about it being forever there.

As much as we sometimes crowed, and as limited as we sometimes felt, when the paycheck came we bought ourselves more time to breathe easy. We were able to keep the power company off our backs, make all the material payments, and when the necessities were sliced away, we usually had a little extra.

We usually had enough to go bowling or drinking or fishing or to buy flowers or tire pumps or dresses, and to take the kids out for a pizza and keep them in proper bicycles, and to hire a babysitter every once in a while and go out on the town with our wives or husbands. And sometimes we had enough extra to convince ourselves we were as free as birds.

And the next day the job was always there--an old friend and a lifelong enemy; something we'd striven for, something sucking all our time away; something to approach with eagerness and disdain, with ambition and frustration; something to escape to and escape from.

(I'm going to bust my can today and produce like never before/I'm not going to do a thing today except get lost in this shuffle and nobody will know the difference.)

The job wasn't something to bow down and pay homage to. It wasn't a deity by a long shot. Working conditions sometimes stunk and bosses were sometimes jerks, and expectations were sometimes impossible. But the job was there and you could count on that like you could count on water being wet.

Nor was the job an all-consuming evil to be constantly struggled against. Conditions were usually pretty good. Bosses were usually reasonable. And expectations were usually within the realm of reality.

Besides, we usually wanted the job at hand, or we would have been in another job.

Most of us sometimes had regrets. We thought perhaps that if we had given our childhood dreams a fair shot, we could have gone on to grand things.

Most dreams die in jobs. And that's not necessarily bad because most dreams are pretty lightheaded. There can only be so many cover girls, country singers, rock-and-roll stars, pro ballplayers, world-renowned anthropologists and women astronauts. Everybody else has to do something.

It doesn't take long for reality to overwhelm dreams when you're on the job. And most of us discover reality is often fun and survival is usually challenging.

Most of us learn each job has its own opiate which keeps us coming back, which keeps us forever trying to do it better--not in some slavelike desire to please the master, but to appease our own instinct to achieve perfection. None of us ever succeed. Some get close. Some of us work up a good buzz.

Doing the job well, whether it be overseeing a huge plant, changing bedpans, building bridges, selling insurance or fixing mufflers, brings equal satisfaction.

And always before the job was there.

But now there's an empty brewery in the Heights. There's a huge distillery down by the river where you can shout and hear your echo. All over town there are half-staffed plants, short-staffed hospitals and schools and offices.

Seldom a day passes anymore when somebody isn't told the job no longer exists. They are told what they do can no longer be justified. Sometimes hundreds get the word on the same day.

And while the job is gone, the power company isn't, nor are the house and car payments and the need to eat.

Most of us still have our jobs. But we all have friends and relatives who have suddenly lost theirs. Some of the those jobs will come back. Some of the people will get better jobs and will eventually look back on this as a good thing.

But for now a lot of us are jobless, and if not frightened are at least worried; if not feeling useless, are at least in limbo; if not feeling burdensome, at least feel out of touch.

And we all scurry to find scapegoats. We want someone to blame. We want a witch to burn. Good local politicians will probably fall from power. Good labor unions will probably have years of progress erased. Good employers will be accused of treachery. Opportunists will use a bad situation to make their grabs for power.

For now, the job is no longer a given.

For now, those with jobs are appreciating them.

For now, we are still being told what we are doing is worth something.

For now, the job feels pretty damned good.

Cal Skinner said...

Just found this article on April 29, 2009.

You are so correct that blogs give people like you and me a chance to leave behind information a little something.

Anonymous said...

I can only begin to imagine what Baker would have written about GM's demise. The rest of what's going on, he probably would have caught well enough.

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Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Mary, Me by Rick Baker. I still cannot believe the lost life of that young lady. What a tragedy.
I'm thankful for Rick Baker's diligence in sorting out the truth.
His untimely death was truly unfortunate.