Russell Baker dies at age 76

A nearly 100-year Baker family relationship with Security State Bank came to an end last week with the death of bank board director Russ Baker.

Baker, 76, had just finished mowing his lawn on the afternoon of June 30 when he collapsed. Maple Lake and Allina emergency personnel answered the call to the Baker home on Robert Avenue at 4:53 p.m. but efforts to revive him failed.

Baker was currently serving as a member of the Security State Bank Board of Directors, where he had worked since he graduated from Maple Lake High School in 1947. He was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Joseph Baker, who became one of the original shareholders for the bank in 1907 and was a member of its first Board of Directors.

Over his years at the bank, Baker served as a teller, loan officer, vice president, and president, retiring from the bank staff in 1986. He was a partner with Lloyd Brandsrud and Don Weismann when the trio bought the bank from the A.H. Ney estate in 1969. When Brandsrud retired, George Palmer, the bank’s current board chair, came on board as a partner until the bank was sold to a group headed by John McHugh in 1984.

Baker’s involvement at Security State Bank was interrupted only by his military service in Korea from 1951 to 1953. When he returned home from the war, he married Lorene Howard in 1953 and the Baker’s raised three children: Alan, Pam and Jerry.

And Security State Bank was only one of Baker’s many interests and avenues for community involvement. He played for the Maple Lake Lakers, and also served as manager. In the late’60s, he was a member of the original Village Players during the effort to raise money for the furnishing of the Maple Lake High School auditorium. He served for nine years on the Maple Lake School Board and was board chairman during the construction of the original high school building on Highway 55. He was a member of the Maple Lake Volunteer Fire Department for 30 years and served as the Fire Department’s treasurer for most of those years. In addition, he was a long-time member of the Maple Lake Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, the VFW, and St. Timothy’s Church.

In 1999, the Maple Lake community honored Baker for his long history of service to the town where he was born and raised by naming him as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal.

George Palmer said that despite all of Baker’s achievements and honors, he was still “just Russ.  “He was not one to put on airs or think he was better than others,” Palmer said. “ That is one of the things I admired about Russ. He just fit into the community so well.”

Don Weismann said it was Baker who called him ‘Mr. Maple Lake’ when that label could have been easily applied to Baker himself.   “When you live in a community all your life, you know people pretty well,” Weismann said, recalling Baker’s years of service with the fire department and his knowledge not only of who was who, but who lived where.

“He knew where everyone’s house was and the names of everyone in the family,” Palmer said.  “He was just an all-around nice guy and a family man,” Palmer added. “And he was very proud of his family. He would talk about them and what they were doing and you could tell he took a lot of pride in them.”

Palmer recalled Baker’s love of sports, traveling to Florida each spring to watch the Twins perform in training camp and golfing at every opportunity.   “When I first came to the bank, I quickly learned that Russ would would not be coming back to work after lunch on Wednesday,” Palmer laughed. “That was golf day. Wanting to fit in, I of course, felt obliged to take an afternoon off, too.”

Weismann said it wasn’t hard to like the easy-going Baker. “Whatever I’d say would be fine with him,” Weismann said. “We always got along real good and as long as I’d drive, he’d go anywhere.”

Both Palmer and Weismann said that Baker was also a good partner in business.  “You always knew where you stood with Russ,” Palmer said. “He was an honorable and honest guy and a tremendous man of integrity. A partnership is like a marriage. You really have to work at it and I think we did quite well.”

Weismann said that Baker had talked about stepping down from the bank board this year, but then he realized that a big anniversary was drawing near.  “He said, ‘If I hang on for one more year, that would be 100 years of Bakers at the bank,’” Weismann said.

Bank President Doyle Van Dyne said that Baker had mentioned that same subject in recent weeks. “He talked about the bank’s anniversary in 2007 and said, ‘You know, I’d like to stay on another year for that reason.’”

Van Dyne said Baker played a major role in both the bank and in the community because of the kind of man he was.   “When I think of Russ, one word comes to mind- ‘respect’,” Van Dyne said. “Russ earned that respect and he had that respect from everyone in the community. And he also respected others. I never heard him say anything derogatory about anyone. He might not have agreed with them, but he respected them.”

Palmer said that it was his great pleasure to know and work with Russ Baker for more than 30 years.  “I will miss him and I know that the Maple Lake Community will also miss him,” Palmer said. “Russ was an honest and caring person who could be counted on to do the right thing.  “Goodbye, Russ. You were a good friend and a business partner and we will all miss you.”