Bill Baker, Sallisaw city manager, has five good reasons to retire. They are his wife, Nelda, and four grandchildren who are living with the Bakers. But, although relaxed and smiling at the prospect of retirement, Baker faces retirement with a bit of apprehension.
"It's a new chapter in your life," he said. "Retirement is a scary thing. You are embarking into a new routine."
Baker announced his resignation into retirement at the Nov. 10 city commission meeting. Although he has been Sallisaw's city manager since December 2003, he worked with the city of Lawton in various city-related posts until his retirement from the Lawton city manager's post after 29 years. He was age 54 when he left the Lawton post for retirement, and was a little at odds with all that extra time. And, he explained, "My wife said she was ready for me to go back to work." So he did. On his first trip to Sallisaw to interview for the job, Baker said he noticed the nice high school facing the interstate, and the nice cemetery just south of Interstate 40. He thought Sallisaw was a lovely community, and, when he was offered the job, Baker signed on. Sallisaw, in Oklahoma's green country, was pretty, and he and his wife were still close to family who are in Oklahoma. His first retirement lasted seven months. He is hoping for more on his second retirement.
Baker said his wife, an accomplished photographer and artist, has, for several years, taken courses through Oklahoma University (OU) in the art colony in Santa Fe, N.M., and has fallen in love with that area. Baker said, after he signed on as Sallisaw city manager, he had promised Nelda it was probably only for a year or two. Almost 11 years later, Baker said he owes his wife. "She said if she had to she was going to Santa Fe without me," Baker said, grinning. Not to be accused of backing out again, Baker said the family often spends summers in Santa Fe. "She's been very good about this job,"Baker said.
Still, there's another reason not to leave so quickly. That would be grandson, Cade, who the Bakers are raising. Cade is a sophomore at Southside High School in Fort Smith, and the Bakers will stay in the area so that Cade may graduate with his class. From there, it's on to college perhaps for Cade and on to a permanent home in Santa Fe for the Bakers. In the meantime, the Bakers have temporary custody of three granddaughters, whom they will continue to care for until they are returned to their parents. Baker proudly said, "We love them to death." He suspects he will "have plenty to do" during this retirement.
Nevertheless, Sallisaw will be missed, Baker said, and while the Bakers linger waiting on Cade's graduation, Baker said he will remain interested in Sallisaw. Baker explained why. "I've become a big Black Diamond fan," Baker said about Sallisaw High School sports. "I am very interested in Sallisaw. I'm interested in the new sports complex, and what the new water supply will be. I love this community. It's going to be sad to leave. This has been the best job I ever had. It's been only one-tenth of the stress I had in Lawton. The people here are such nice people."
Baker said he's also proud of the work accomplished in the past 11 years. He said, "Jim Hudgens (past city manager) left me a good organization. I was very fortunate. And he has never once criticized anything I did." Baker said the community has state-of-the-art communications, and water systems. He acknowledged the city had some debt, mostly due to the water system. which was approved by a vote of the citizens. "The city needs improvements that go on forever," Baker said. "It never stops if you are a growing community. You have to have debt." Baker also praised city employees and staff. "We have good employees, who care about the citizens and the community. They work in all kinds of weather."
Baker said that, as a young man, he did not plan on a career in city government. He got his bachelor's degree in social studies and later a master's in public administration from OU. In the meantime, he served in the U.S. Army, and, after he was hired in Lawton as a personnel director, (the first step on his way to the city manager post) Baker continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves. He retired from that job as a lieutenant colonel. "I never dreamed of being a city manager," Baker said.
Baker's resignation becomes effective April 1. In the meantime, Baker will work on an advertisement for his replacement. He said not retiring until April 1 gives the city time to find a good prospect.
After 29 years in city government, Baker said that his favorite hero, Teddy Roosevelt, said it best. Roosevelt praised those who get "in the arena."
Roosevelt said: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
By Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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