Peter Cavanaugh

God bless Harry Baker.

“Judge not, that you not be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2).

After we moved to Oakhurst in November of 2006, I kept seeing Harry Baker’s name all over town. It was here. It was there. It was everywhere. When I started asking about him, I heard all sorts of stories. It was clear from the outset of my inquiries that here was a man of superior civic consequence. What hadn’t he done?

An honored World War II veteran and life member of the American Legion and VFW. President of the Eastern Madera County Chamber of Commerce. Eastern Madera County Man of the Year. Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Business Person of the Year. Sierra Historic Sites “Man of the Millennium.” Recipient of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Award. A member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors for twelve years. Yosemite High School’s first board president. I’m skimming highlights.

Harry Baker’s involvement with charitable endeavors is similarly impressive. He gave us Oakhurst Community Park, brought an ambulance service to town, was responsible for our annual community Christmas tree, led the way to establishing Yosemite High School and was immensely supportive of such area endeavors as The Elks Lodge and Sierra Historic Sites, including Fresno Flats.

Harry Baker’s entrepreneurial genius and stunning triumphs with Sierra Tel are nothing short of breathtaking by any measure, taking a tiny rural phone company and guiding it to a position of major industrial prominence serving tens of thousands with state of the art technology, moving into the future with brilliant leadership and focused determination. With rare exception, his employees loved him. I’ve spoken with many.

I was delighted when I saw Harry Baker’s passing headlined in our Sierra Star with the words, “Philanthropist Harry Baker dies in Fresno” – for -- of the many qualities he represented, Mr. Baker surely should best be remember by future generations for his remarkably generous contributions in time and treasure to the advancement of this community. I write this even though I solemnly promised to never again refer to him as “Mr. Baker.”

It was a wintry night in early 2012 when I was returning to my car in front of Von’s and saw an elderly gentleman slowly stepping through a light snowfall to his own vehicle, grocery bag held close and pronounced care taken with every measured move. We had never met, but I couldn’t help but loudly exclaim, ”Good evening, Mr. Baker.” He stopped, stared in my direction, and then proclaimed with feigned annoyance, “My name is not Mr. Baker.” Walking toward me with hand extended, he said, “My name is Harry. You call me Harry.”

So I did from that point forward, then and upon several other occasions when we would encounter each other for brief, passing, inconsequential chats as we traveled separately through time. It still seems impossible reconciling my own impressions of “Harry” and his stunning, lifetime achievements in Oakhurst with the horrid public humiliation that haunted his final years, concluding with six months of incarceration and death under guard - deserved or not.

Sordid details need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say it would seem to me that admittedly seedy, tawdry, mindless indiscretion was subsequently followed by a tragic legal miscalculation with the debatable victimizer thus turned ultimate victim. But let Harry Baker be recalled for his best, not his worst.

Goodbye, Harry. I was honored making your acquaintance. You were a great man.

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10).