Campus mourns passing of Dr. David Baker

The following message was sent to faculty & staff to share the sad news of the passing of Dr. David Baker.

April 17, 2021

Dear Heidelberg Community,

With an extremely heavy heart, I want to share the sad news that Heidelberg has lost one of its icons and the scientific world has lost an environmental pioneer.  Dr. David Baker, Class of ’58 and the founder and long-time director of the National Center for the Water Quality Research, passed away following a lengthy illness early yesterday morning.

Dave and his wife, Margaret “Peg” Baker, Class of ’60, returned to Tiffin in 1966 when he joined the staff of the Biology Department at Heidelberg.  He had earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan, completed a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at Universität Tübingen, Germany, and taught at Rutgers University.  The retirement of his favorite professor, Dr. A.G. McQuate, left an opening in the Biology Department, and he headed back to his alma mater.  Little did Dave know, that when then-President William T. Wickham provided funds for incorporating analyses of water samples from the Sandusky River into introductory biology labs, that his initiative would become the National Center for Water Quality Research (NCWQR).

In its 50-plus years since Dave created it in 1969, the NCWQR, formerly known as the Water Quality Lab, has been at the forefront of data collection, monitoring, research, and outreach in support of sustainable use of soil and water resources.  Dave was ahead of his time in leading and growing the NCWQR into an internationally respected, state-of-the-art environmental research facility as the lab’s director for 30-plus years.  He was also a prolific grant writer, securing many, many significant grants for the lab’s operations during his tenure.  Over the years, the lab produced an unprecedented amount of water quality data that is incomparable in quantity and quality anywhere else in the world. 

In so many ways, Dave was a very generous, always kind, and soft-spoken man.  He frequently shared his expertise with the scientific and agricultural communities, giving presentations on water quality issues locally, regionally, and nationally that averaged about one a week at the height of his career.  He authored countless published articles about the lab’s work.  Although he retired in 1999, he returned as interim director for two years in 2005, and continued his involvement with the NCWQR as he was able. 

I learned about Dave’s professional passion, collegial kindness, and spirited dedication to this institution soon after meeting Peg and Dave following the announcement of my appointment in December 2008.  As a “welcome to Heidelberg” gift, they sent me a copy of Teaching the Natural Sciences at Heidelberg College: 150 Years of Biology and Geology (2005) two months later.  Their inscription noted, “In addition to your interest in the broader histories of this university, we thought you might enjoy this volume” and they highlighted that Dr. George Barlow (“colleague and friend”) and Dr. Ron Stuckey (“Peg’s classmate”) wrote it.  Luckily, I read it.  The next time I saw Dave after starting my new job in summer 2009 (when he was essentially still working full-time 10 years after “retiring”), he asked me what I thought about the history of sciences at Heidelberg!  I am not certain if Dr. Baker gave me a passing grade on my response, but when I finally met Drs. Barlow and Stuckey, I thanked them for their book with that assumption.

Throughout Dave’s career, he received awards too numerous to mention in their entirety.  Among those honors:  U.S. EPA for his service on the Drinking Water Committee of the EPA, the Ohio Lake Erie Award, the Water Management Association Hall of Fame, and the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition.  Additionally, he received Heidelberg’s Alumni Citation in 1999.

Dave and Peg met on campus during her freshman year of 1956.  Both were working in France Dining Hall and began dating a year later during a Concert Choir tour.  They were married on June 18, 1960, following Peg’s graduation, and together, they are members of a Heidelberg Legacy Family that includes his brother, Jim, ’60; his sister, Judy (Baker) Calcei, ’63, niece Bethany (Calcei) Hudson, ’91; Peg’s father, Scott Swinehart, ’33, brother, David Swinehart, ’62, and sister, Joan (Swinehart) Talmage, ’68.  Joan’s husband, Ralph, is a member of Heidelberg’s Board of Trustees.

The Bakers have been active in community theatre and Dave has enjoyed having “bit” parts in several plays.  Additionally, he volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and the First Presbyterian Church choir, and enjoyed outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking, fishing, and vacationing in West Virginia and Quebec Elderhostels.

Together, Dave and Peg have generously supported Heidelberg through unrestricted giving via the Fellows Organization (Presidents Level) and through numerous gifts to capital campaigns, memorial scholarship funds, student environmental internships, and programs in the Music and Education departments. They are members of Heidelberg’s Builders and Benefactors at the Colleagues level (for lifetime giving) as well as the Heidelberg Heritage Society (for designating the University in their estate plans).  The Bakers have been extraordinary supporters of this University.

I was deeply reminded of Dave’s generous humility when I visited his rock at The Pond this morning to express my gratitude.  We wanted to name that magnificent water “Baker Pond” when it was dedicated after the Saurwein Health and Wellness Center was built in 2012.  Dave said, politely but firmly, no thanks.  Hence the plaque on the rock says “The Pond.”  In fact, Dave insisted that the wording on the plaque honor “all faculty and staff” in the Natural Sciences and who support environmental education and research, along with “all students” who celebrate the natural beauty of our campus.  It does.

A Memorial Service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 24, 2021, at First Presbyterian Church, 96 S. Monroe St., in Tiffin.  Friends may visit with the family from 10 a.m. until the time of the service Saturday at the church.  The service will be life-streamed through the church’s Facebook page at https://www. facebook.com/groups/fpctiffin.  A private burial will be earlier at Greenlawn Cemetery.  A reception in Dave’s honor is being planned for a later date.  Hoffman-Gottfried-Mack Funeral Home and Crematory is assisting the family with arrangements.  Condolences may be sent and the guestbook signed at www.hgmackfuneralhome.com.

If you are so inclined, you may make memorial contributions to the National Center for Water Quality Research, the First Presbyterian Church, the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Ritz Players or a charity of your choice.

Please join me in expressing our most sincere condolences to Peg, their children Sarah, Mark and Susan, their grandchildren, Dave’s extended family, and to Peg’s sister Joan, during this difficult time.

With sadness and respect for a wonderful life of great purpose and exemplary distinction,

Rob Huntington

President

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