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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Monrovia Weekly / History never dies — Monrovia historian Steve Baker passes away at 80

History never dies — Monrovia historian Steve Baker passes away at 80

by Terry Miller
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As the tributes to Steve Baker pile into Facebook, local blogs and City Hall’s inbox, I’d like to add my two-cents about a humble humanitarian and historian with a most unique sense of humor.

For the past several years I was privileged to share Friday evenings with some dear friends and influential people in Monrovia. One of the more colorful attendees was Mr. Steve Baker.

We’d gather at my house for Friday ‘Afternoon Tea’– actually Beer & wine — in my not-so-secret garden on Norumbega Drive. COVID-19 had shut down any speakeasys where we would occasionally meet. 

I’d supply the pickled onions and cheese; the lads, who consisted of the veritable who’s who of Monrovia, would bring the beer and chips. It was the perfect storm of wit, tall tales and remarkable insight.

Steve loved to try my British contributions, especially the pickled onions direct from Harrods of London, and, of course, the smoked salmon — albeit with Branston Pickle. Not all dared sample the traditions of British cuisine…Steve Baker always did.

The Friday chaps would arrive, promptly, except Steve. He was very much in demand as his time was indeed stretched to remarkable limits.  Usually last, but most certainly not least.

Steve just couldn’t say “NO” to anyone who requested the pleasure of company, boundless energy remarkable knowledge.

Aside from being a walking encyclopedia of history, especially Monrovia’s, he had a deliciously devious dry sense of humor. He had impeccable ability to recite classic limericks with that ever-present wry smile.

Limericks are a fun and timeless way to tell short, silly stories …perfect for choir practice. They can be about anything, if they follow their single stanza structure that dates back to the early 14th century, around the time Steve was born metaphorically speaking.

Limericks provided an enormous amount of entertainment for our wee gathering.

As we all settled in with our tales of the week (some of which were actually true), Steve would listen intently, take a sip of Stella Artois and, without missing a beat, blurt out something like:

I’d rather have Ears than a Nose.
And as for my Hair,
I’m glad it’s all there,
I’ll be awfully sad, when it goes.

Steve’s versions might, occasionally turn somewhat ribald but never worthy of gasps –- which, in turn prompted, a litany of somewhat ‘naughty’ contributions from those gathered and aptly garnished with the amber nectar.

Someone coined our weekly gatherings as a club ‘Choir Practice’ –- in honor of one of Steve’s numerous talents –- another called the visits “Meetings of the Minds…”

Whatever the congregation was entitled: A retired teacher; a sitting councilmember; a retiree who unequivocally deserves the unsanctioned moniker “Monrovia’s Honorary Mayor”; a salt and peppered British photojournalist; the occasional Canadian attorney as well as a larger-than-life real estate magnate…all gathered under the early evening’s shade of a navel orange tree to solve the world’s problems.

The clan was initially seated at least 6 feet apart, but as the virus became less prevalent, we adapted to a new normal and could finally understand what each of us was uttering under those cumbersome N95s.

The plan was usually to have just a couple of cocktails and be done by 7:30. We never did we achieve such a silly time constraint. 

Each one has his claim to fame: i.e. one guest is world famous for his cache of jokes. One is known for his eloquent use of the English language and Facebook faux pas. Another specializes in recalling the bad luck he seems to attract annually. Meanwhile, another ‘choir-member’ recites the absurdity of the law and the cold cruel cost therein should you run afoul of any law.

However, without question, the most colorful choir member to share our Friday evenings was unquestionably Steve Baker, Monrovia’s true mastermind.

The Baker brain was indeed a plethora of knowledge. If it involved the city’s history, Steve knew far more than any mere Monrovia mortal could possibly muster in any given millennium.

Steve Baker now joins that incredibly rich roster of which he so dearly loved and cherished –- Monrovia history.

A service celebrating the life of Steve Baker will be held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 122 S. California Avenue, Monrovia on Saturday, April 16 at 3:30 p.m.

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