Elsie Jones Baker
Life and Work
Elsie was born February 21, 1930 to Herbert and Nellie Jones at Hughenden, Alberta. Elsie’s parents were English-born pioneers who farmed north of Amisk, Alberta. Elsie attended Lowe School, a one-room school that was named after her great uncle, since the school was located on land that he had owned. She began grade one at Easter 1936 and completed the first grade in June that year. From grades one through nine, Elsie had the same teacher at Lowe School, Frank Merchant. In 1944, Elsie completed grade nine and began taking the bus to Amisk School for grade ten. This was also the year that Elsie’s family moved to another farm, one and a half miles from their previous home.
In 1946, Elsie began attending Camrose Lutheran College (now the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta) for part of grade twelve because she could only achieve thirty credits per year at Amisk School. She also completed her commercial training at the College in 1948.
On July 2, 1948, she began working at the Royal Bank in Camrose as a stenographer. She boarded with a couple in Camrose for the three years that she worked at the bank. During this time, she was set up on a blind date with her future husband, Dave Baker. Elsie recalls that on the date, she played on the piano a song called “I’ll Always Be in Love with You.” A few days later, Elsie and Dave went to a country dance together; this was the beginning of a three-year courtship and a love that would last a lifetime.
Elsie resigned from the Royal Bank on October 31, 1951, just prior to marrying Dave on November 10, 1951 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Camrose, Alberta. They were able to take a two-week honeymoon to Banff and Calgary, after which they stopped in Amisk for a shower that Elsie’s family had planned for them. For their wedding, Elsie’s parents gave them money to purchase a piano, which their youngest daughter still has. Once they were married, Dave and Elsie moved to the Baker family farm near Bittern Lake, Alberta. The couple lived with Dave’s parents for a short time until a house was purchased in Camrose, which was moved to the Baker farm and renovated.
During the first few years of Dave and Elsie’s marriage, the couple relied on Dave’s small income from playing his saxophone at community events and celebrations, where he might make two to five dollars per night, perhaps eight on New Year’s Eve. They had three cows, and cream cheques provided a few dollars as well.
Elsie and Dave’s family began with the birth of Barbara May on May 3, 1954, which was followed closely by the arrivals of Brenda Jean on June 15, 1955, Robert Douglas on October 7, 1956, and finally Beverly Ann on December 17, 1958. The “4 Bs” were raised on the farm, each with their own chores to do. Elsie went back to work on May 2, 1966, at CIBC in Wetaskiwin, to relieve some of the family’s financial pressures. The girls helped Elsie with household chores while Bob helped his father with the farm work; everyone helped outside at harvest time. The Baker house did not have electricity until 1953 and had no running water until 1963. In 1974, the Bakers left the farm and moved into Wetaskiwin. As the children were mostly grown by this time, the person affected most by the move was youngest daughter Bev, who was still in high school at the time. However, they were still able to drive out to the country and spend time around the family’s former property once in a while.
Elsie began the making of a name for herself as a musician of standing in the community when Dave would come in from working on the farm late at night, and he and Elsie would play music to unwind. Their daughter Bev recalls sharing the basement bedroom with her two sisters and falling asleep to their parents’ music. People were always dropping by the Bakers’ to visit or join the ensemble, and somehow Elsie was always prepared to welcome company and serve a meal.
Dave learned to play the organ when he was young and then tried drumming before he got a saxophone, which he played until surgery to remove cancer from his lip made him unable to do so any longer. When this happened, he bought a vibraphone and continued to perform locally. Naturally musical, both Elsie and Dave learned to play by ear; to this day Elsie does not read music. Elsie’s musical history began with an organ that her mother’s parents left on the farm when they returned to England. She started pressing keys and making noise that soon turned into discernible chords and melodies, until eventually she was able to play songs she had heard on the radio. She later picked up the accordion and learned to play it in the 70s. Dave and Elsie enjoyed playing 1950s dance songs such as “Blue Canadian Rockies” and “My Happiness” to appreciative audiences. Dave played for country dances at Ma-Me-O, the Moose Lodge, New Norway, Duhamel, and Ohaton, amongst other places. There was more time for music after Elsie left the Bank of Commerce officially on December 31, 1989, and twenty-four years employed there. In their retirement, Dave and Elsie spent a lot of time performing with other musicians for small local events such as birthday parties, anniversary parties, and some weddings. They played at community halls, the Auxiliary Hospital, and Wetaskiwin seniors’ homes. So active in the community, Dave and Elsie Baker were honoured by the Wetaskiwin Chamber of Commerce in 1991 with the award for Citizens of the Year.
Elsie has always cared for those around her who are unable to help themselves. Bev, Brenda and Barb remember their father’s bachelor uncle being invited to live with them while his two broken arms healed. When Dave’s mother was in long-term care and almost totally debilitated, Elsie visited her every day. And when Dave was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and admitted to long-term care, Elsie could not have been more devoted to her husband. She stayed with Dave for hours upon hours each and every day, and when she had to be away, she arranged for friends to visit every day that she would not be able to. Elsie took courses in palliative care and massage to help Dave be as comfortable as possible. Sadly, Dave Baker passed away November 15, 1998, five days after their forty-seventh wedding anniversary. He had spent several years in the hospital, with his loving wife at his side.
Elsie moved into Luther Manor in Wetaskiwin on July 1, 1997. She has remained active in the community. When her young family lived on the farm, Elsie drove numerous children—her own and others—to and from sporting events and extracurricular activities. When she was able to return to work, she became a well-known and beloved citizen of Wetaskiwin through her work at the Bank of Commerce. Now well into her retirement, Elsie aids several friends who do not have their own means of transportation with their shopping and various appointments. Elsie, at the age of eighty-two, has an incredibly busy schedule. When her children begin planning a family gathering, they have to start by working with the busiest schedule—Elsie’s. As her friend Leola May points out, it is easy to forget that she is a senior citizen herself.
Music has always been an important presence in her life. Many of Elsie’s volunteer commitments revolve around her musical talents and experience. She plays piano at the Wetaskiwin Hospital three times per month, accompanied by Lou Paradis on banjo. Elsie belongs to a group called the Fun Singers from the Seniors Centre. They practise every Thursday morning and visit all the seniors’ homes in town during the year. She is in charge of arranging the musical entertainment for the ‘Birthday Party of the Month’ at Luther Manor, where she also organizes a Hymn Sing every second Sunday from September to June. Hymn Sing also takes place at Peace Hills Lodge every second Monday from September to June. Elsie was on the Bittern Lake/Sifton History Book Committee and contributed to the creation of The Bitter ‘n Sweet: The History of the Bittern Lake-Sifton District. She is the treasurer for the Crooked Lake Seniors as well.
Elsie’s children are now spread far and wide, residing in California, New Jersey and St. Albert, Alberta. There are seven grandchildren: Brenda’s son Brett, Barb’s children Michael and Jennifer, Bev’s children Jamieson and Andrew, and Bob’s children Tessa and Mitchell. Elsie also has two great-grandchildren, Owen and Will, who are Michael and Emily’s sons. Barb, Brenda, Bob and Bev try to get the whole family together at least every two years. Their most recent reunion was June 2012, when they all flew to New Jersey, where Barb and Bill now live. Elsie is able to see her grandchildren who live in St. Albert more frequently and enjoys birthday parties and holidays with them. Bev’s family spends every Christmas Eve at their friends’ house in St. Albert and Elsie always goes along to play the piano for the group. Elsie entertains her family and shares her gift with family friends and their families as well. Everyone expects Elsie to be there for Christmas Eve so that they may enjoy her music and company.
Elsie has a very wide range of friends and acquaintances that she has gained through her involvement in the community. Many people in the Wetaskiwin area have had the good fortune to witness and receive Elsie’s generosity. She makes a point to maintain relationships with those she meets and helps. Not only does Elsie provide assistance and transportation to those who need to get to important medical appointments, she accompanies people who cannot get out on their own to socialize and attend different events. An outing with Elsie might include shopping, dining, visiting or taking in a program around town. Elsie will go out of her way and make time to help another or simply keep them company. Elsie’s friend Leola May—whom she met when she joined the Fun Singers, and who also lives at Luther Manor—treasures their friendship greatly. Since Leola no longer drives, Elsie graciously helps her to appointments and with other errands. Though there are many flattering words used with regard to Elsie—generous, caring, kind, obliging, helpful, thoughtful—she remains incredibly modest. Elsie does not feel that she is extraordinary in any way, and refuses to boast or even accept praise for the kind acts she simply considers routine. As Leola says, “That’s just Elsie.
Compiled in 2012.
Sources: Esther Rix, Wetaskiwin Times, Elsie Baker, Bev Hoffmann-Baker, Brenda Bauer, Joey Jackson, Leola May.