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Charles M. "Charlie" Baker remembered for dedication to firefighting and family

April 06, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Charles M. "Charlie" Baker, who died March 23 at the age of 76. His obituary was published in The Herald-Mail on March 25.

HAGERSTOWN -- There is an expression often used to describe career firefighters that fit Charles M. "Charlie" Baker perfectly. He was truly superheated!

Charlie made the transition from volunteer to career firefighter and went on to spend more than a quarter of a century serving his community.

After a brief stint as acting fire chief, Charlie served as deputy chief from 1985 until his retirement in 1993.

"I'll always remember his love and dedication to the Hagerstown Fire Department -- from his volunteer days until his death," said Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker. "Some people find a job and work for 27 years ... Charlie found the love of a profession that lasted him a lifetime."

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Former Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief C. Kingsley Poole said he remembers being invited to Charlie's home on Christmas Day to share dinner with his family when Kingsley was still single.

And he remembers Charlie's bravery.

"Back in the 1950s, he was the volunteer chief of the South Hagerstown Fire Co.," Kingsley said. "In those days, city units were sometimes sent out for very long distances."

In just such a case, Charlie was dispatched for a gasoline tanker on fire near Dargan. He used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out under the truck before it got out of hand, Kingsley said.

Charlie even met his wife, Janice, through the fire department.

"I was working at the South End carnival at the corner of Potomac Street and Wilson Boulevard when I went over to the fire hall to get something," Janice said.

When she got there, she encountered Charlie for the first time. A couple of days later, 22-year-old Charlie approached Janice, who was 16, and they began dating.

Mostly they just rode around and talked, she said. "We got married in 1954 when I was 17," she said. Charlie was working at Fairchild then, in the fire department, of course.

The couple soon began a family which numbered two daughters and four sons.

Growing up in Frederick County, Md., Charlie started working on his grandfather's farm there. When he moved to Hagerstown with his mother, Charlie met Bill Dieterich, a neighbor on Maryland Avenue.

"I was an operator at South End Fire Co. and I suggested he get involved," Dieterich said. "Charlie was a good man, we fought a lot of fires together."

Janice said Charlie officially began working for the Hagerstown Fire Department in 1966.

Bonnie Cusic remembers that her dad wasn't home a lot when she was growing up. But when he was off duty, the family often went on outings together to Greenbrier and other parks.

"Dad also had a big garden ... I remember we pulled a lot of weeds," Bonnie said.

Bonnie's brother Chuck described his father as a very caring person. "He taught us boys to hunt and fish -- those were great times," he said.

Chuck's wife, Linda, said Charlie always felt like a second father to her -- a role that had been empty since her own father died many years earlier.

Charlie's love of carpentry rubbed off on all of his children, either through doing the work or receiving the fruits of his labors.

"I made a career out of it," said son Dean, who learned his carpentry skills when he was 9 years old. "He taught me a lot."

Dean's wife, Nora, loved Charlie's sense of humor and his caring nature. "Pap made me feel like a daughter, not a daughter-in-law."

Charlie's son Mark also worked in carpentry with his father. "He helped me build my house," Mark said. "Dad would often come up and hunt and fish on the weekends."

Bestowing nicknames was one of Charlie's pastimes, according to Mark's wife, Diane. "When he came up, he always called me kid," she said.

"Dad was my rock -- he was always there for me," said daughter Jean Harbaugh. "He was the glue that held us all together."

Even Jean's husband, Steve, learned carpentry from Charlie, whom he described as a great father-in-law.

"I remember dad trying to catch me every other weekend to get my hair cut," said son Paul. "He liked crewcuts and we didn't see eye to eye on that."

Granddaughter Amy Kegarise, nicknamed Snowball by Charlie, will always remember the respect she and others had for her "Pappy."

Amy, who is the daughter of Dean and Nora Baker, and several of Charlie's other grandchildren were the recipients at graduation of handmade hope chests for the girls and a gun cabinet for a boy.

Charlie made them all with love.

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