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Answering service owner hanging it up after 26 years

December 07, 1999

Pat BakerBY JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After almost 26 years of answering calls from the comical to the tragic for other businesses, Pat Baker is calling it quits and retiring next Thursday.

"I just think it's time to let go," said Baker, 71, who runs Beeline Answering Services out of her Brookdale Avenue home in Martinsburg.

The news has caused some distress among her approximately 100 clients, many of whom she has served for several years.

"I'm very unhappy that she's giving it up," said Frada Fine, owner of Consumers Fuel Co.

Fine said it was a "shock" to learn Baker was retiring and closing her business.

"It was hometown service and they were good people to deal with," Fine said.

Dr. Robert Strauch said he will miss Baker, whose answering service has worked with him for more than 21 years.

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Strauch said Baker is "like part of the family."

"It's very much like family," Baker said. "That's what makes the decision so hard. It's like you're giving up your family."

Strauch, a surgeon at City Hospital, said Baker is "uncanny" in the way she has always managed to find him, even when he was on vacation.

Baker said she once tracked Strauch down on vacation while he was eating at a restaurant with several other couples in Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, Md.

Baker said she tried to sell the business to keep it going, but a potential deal fell through and she wanted to retire. She also has had trouble keeping employees since November 1998. Today's young employees are more likely to change jobs and less likely to want to work hard, she said.

The service will cease Dec. 16, when Baker said jokingly she expects to "collapse."

Baker bought the answering service from Buzz Berens in 1974, when her husband worked in construction and she had five children at home.

She was supposed to go to Berens' home on Maryland Avenue for training, but the kids came down with the measles. So she started with 28 customers and no training.

The business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week shutting down only twice - temporarily - because of power outages. She even works on holidays. The last vacation she took was at least five years ago when she visited her daughter in Austin, Texas.

Through the years, Baker has made many new friends, although she said she wouldn't recognize many of her clients if they walked in the door.

The job has been fun, but at times it can be very stressful, even distressing, she said.

Once a young man called trying to reach a mental health clinic. Later Baker heard he had committed suicide within an hour of the call.

On another call to a mental health clinic, Baker was able to make a difference and help save a life.

A woman called saying she was going to kill herself. Baker talked to her awhile before the woman told her "You have been extremely nice. I'm telling you goodbye and I'm going to kill myself," Baker said.

Baker said someone got to the woman in time to stop her.

"It scared me," she said.

Baker doesn't regret a minute of the business, but it has taken its toll. "You have no life at all," she said.

She plans to clean the "clutter" in her home, spend more time with her five children, nine grandchildren and her great-granddaughter, and continue with another business.

She inherited B&B Trophies from a friend four years ago and will continue operating that business out of her home, she said.

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