Jim and Char Baker epitomize the concept of volunteering. Jim, a retired Boeing mechanical engineer, spent his professional life testing jet engines and conducting crash investigations. Char taught high school drama, music and English, and then went on to become community relations coordinator for the , launching the first Renton River Days Festival.
The Bakers came to volunteering in different ways. A camping accident left Jim with severe burns over 25 percent of his body, making a high-country rescue necessary. The experience led him to 22 years with Seattle Mountain Rescue, answering calls in the middle of the night and bringing other distressed hikers safely home.
He was out on a training mission, he said, when a fellow volunteer asked, "Why do we do this?"
The answer: "Because it's fun."
Jim has never forgotten that. "No one would volunteer," he said. "Unless it was fun."
Char learned about giving to others from her mother.
When Char was a child, women couldn't serve on school boards. "So, my father got elected to the school board," she says, with a smile, "and my mother did most of the work behind the scenes."
With a background in music and theater, no one was surprised when, later in life, Char began volunteering with Seattle Junior Programs, also known as Seattle Children's Theater, helping to build sets and arranging for bus loads of Renton school children to enjoy the productions. Eventually, she became president of the board. Her mother would have been proud.
All of this volunteering would have been enough for most people, but not the Bakers. It only seemed to fuel their desire to do more good. In 2006, Jim served as president of the . Each president is given the opportunity to fund a pet project and Jim launched Rotary's "Dictionary Project."
What motivated him to do this?
He says that whenever he asked his mother for help defining a word, she'd say, "Look it up, James!" And, so he did.
Today, Rotary still provides beautiful, hardbound dictionaries to every third grader in the . Jim's mother would have been proud.
Char's volunteer efforts are no less illustrious. In 2000, she chaired the ambitious fundraising committee that raised $1.5 million for the Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center. She still sits on the Advisory Council, advocating for quality arts and entertainment. Char also sits on the Allied Arts Board of Directors, helping with the annual Chalk Art Contest, and currently sits on the Renton Community Foundation Board, taking charge of staging its annual Circle of Giving Awards Ceremony.
Never far apart, Jim and Char support each other in their volunteer capacities. Jim has spent many an afternoon building and painting sets for theater productions, while Char has joined him in the dictionary project, slapping on labels and stacking boxes of books.
Jim and Char Baker -- two people who clearly love what they're doing, and love Renton. Good for us.