By Wendel Sloan: ENMU Communication Services
PORTALES — Jack K. Baker, 80, will be one of the 366 graduation candidates walking across the stage at Eastern New Mexico University’s 118th commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. this Saturday, May 15, in Greyhound Arena in Portales. He is receiving a bachelor of science in history with a minor in English.
“I wanted something to keep me busy,” said Baker, who suffers from macular degeneration. “I needed something to wrap my mind around. The courses were challenging, but I enjoyed them very much.”
Baker’s advisor was Suzanne Balch-Lindsay, and he said his other main history professors were Peggy Hardman and ‘Doc’ Elder. “All of them were very helpful,” he said.
“It was interesting to have someone in class like Mr. Baker who had lived through much of the period we were studying,” said Donald “Doc” Elder III, professor of history. “He would often comment about how the things we were discussing impacted him. His mind was as sharp as a tact. If a historical point didn’t exactly match up with the record, he pointed it out. In our videoconferencing courses, which he was taking from Hobbs, the other students would look at him in amazement as if to say, ‘How did he know that?’
“I admire the gentleman. After dabbling in taking courses, he jumped through all the hoops it took to get his degree. It says a lot about the ability of the human mind to absorb new information at all stages of life. Having Mr. Baker in class was a genuine pleasure.”
Born in North Carolina on June 2, 1929, Baker was drafted into the Army in 1950 when the Korean War started. After that, he attended the University of New Mexico and then re-entered the Army in 1960. He worked in Army finance offices in New York City, Korea, Germany, Vietnam and Iran, and was an instructor at the Army Finance Center.
After retirement, he returned to Hobbs to take care of his parents, and received an associate degree at New Mexico Junior College, a bachelor of arts at the University of New Mexico, a bachelor of science in psychology at College of the Southwest and worked for several years at the Lea County Literacy Center. In 2003, he began taking videoconferencing and online classes in history and English from ENMU.
Balch-Lindsay, professor of history, was Baker’s academic advisor and his instructor for approximately 10 courses. “Mr. Baker was a wonderful student and a wonderful writer,” she said. “Because he had lived through much of what I was teaching, he had great insight and made great contributions to our discussions. He was every traditional student’s worst nightmare because he was always so well prepared.
“Mr. Baker is a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He is a joy to be around, and I am very proud of him.”
Kathleen DeSoto Pryer, ENMU’s Distance Education facilitator in Hobbs, worked closely with Baker as he took ENMU online and videoconferencing courses at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs. She is driving him to Portales for the commencement ceremony. “It was my privilege to have been associated with Mr. Baker,” said Pryer. “He was a very dedicated student, never missed class and was always on time. He held a very high standard of academic achievement.”
Baker said, “Pursuing a degree gave me a goal. I have no future educational plans, but will continue to take aerobic and yoga classes. When I walk across the stage at ENMU on Saturday, I will have achieved my last educational goal.”