Fire chief remembered for dedication, service


TOWN OF LEE — Longtime Lee Center volunteer fire chief Kenneth F. Baker Jr. is remembered as a dedicated first-responder, a loving husband, father and grandfather, and a selfless joker until the end.

Baker passed away on Wednesday following a brief battle with a brain tumor. Firefighters from across the area will bring their trucks to Lee Center on Monday for Baker’s funeral procession.

“A man as noble, caring and loving as grandpa will always be remembered by those of us who knew and loved him. We will forever miss his laugh, his humor, his smile, his pranks and, more importantly, his love,” said granddaughter Ashley Baker, who followed her grandfather into the fire service, both at Lee Center for a decade, and as a career firefighter in South Carolina for the past five years.

“He was a great teacher to have. Not only to his family, but also to everybody. It seems like he never met a stranger. He was selfless and kind.”

Baker, age 78, served as a member of the Lee Center Volunteer Fire Department for 48 years, and served 28 consecutive years as its fire chief — the longest tenure in the department’s history. Baker also served as president of the Oneida County Fire Chiefs Association in 2001. Baker, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, worked at Rome Cable and was director of security at Vernon Downs for many years.

According to his obituary and family, Baker was an avid hunter and fisher. Family members said his dedication to his family — including wife Patricia, with whom he was married for 58 years — was matched only by his dedication to helping his community.

“He was a good guy. He had a great sense of humor,” said son Joseph Baker, who was his father’s successor as fire chief. “He loved being able to help other people. He would give the shift off his back to help people.”

Both Joseph and Ashley said they fondly recall spending Saturday mornings hanging out at the fire station in Lee, with Ken Baker holding court with his crew and their children.

“Grandpa was my biggest hero, idol and role model. I wanted to be just like him growing up,” said Ashley.

“Saturday mornings growing up, I used to love going to the firehouse with dad so I could see grandpa. I would be his shadow. Even from a very young age, I would tell him I was going to be the first female chief, a dream he fully supported.”

Ken Baker Jr. followed his own father into the fire service, and the tradition continues. Along with Ashley, Baker’s youngest grandchild, Tyler, joined Lee Center in April and is also looking to become a professional firefighter.

Baker’s other son, Michael, said his father’s service was a daily passion.

“He was there (at the firehouse) every day. That was his thing. He liked being there everyday,” said Michael Baker, another family firefighter and assistant chief at Lee Center. He liked “just helping people. He was awesome.”

Michael’s wife, Julia Baker, remembered her father-in-law as a calm and collected leader who remained cool in any crisis. “He always remained even. He was calm all the time. No matter if there was a huge fire or a car accident. To me, that’s important. Even through his illness,” Julia said. “He had a funny sense of humor,” she added. “And he kept his sense of humor the whole time.”

A grandfather to five, family members said Baker doted on his grandchildren. One of his favorite bits was his invisible dog “Spike,” where he’d convince the youngsters that he was feeding and petting an invisible critter, Joseph recalled, adding that “Spike” remained a gag even in his hospital bed.

Granddaughter Hilary Baker said many people have been reaching out to the family, and it has been "pretty amazing" to hear from so many people.

"A lot of the same words are coming out, that he was kind, that he was funny, that he's a leader. And the one that really stuck out was that he's a servant," Hilary said, noting that these were the same words family would use to describe her grandfather.

"It really speaks to who he was. It's amazing that he had that kind of impact on so many people."

An occupational therapist from Colorado, Hilary said she came home this summer to help with her grandfather's recovery. She said he remained a joker throughout his recovery, alway trying to get his wife and his nurses to laugh.

Calling hours for Baker will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Barry Funeral Home on West Chestnut Street. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph’s Church in Lee Center, with burial with military honors at Evergreen Cemetery.

Multiple fire and ladder trucks from across the Central New York area are expected to be in Lee Center on Monday as part of Baker’s funeral procession.


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