Robert Jerry "R.J." Baker, 74, Norfolk, NE, passed away on Monday, August 11, 2014, at his home after battling kidney cancer for six years.
R.J. was born January 15, 1940, in Newton, IA, to parents Verl and Helen Baker. R.J. was the youngest of brothers William and John. R.J. had three additional siblings, Elizabeth Stockton, Mary Baker and James Baker, after Verl and Helen both later remarried.
R.J. grew up in Newton, IA, attending Lincoln Elementary and graduating Newton High School in 1958. R.J. played Cardinal football in his older brothers' footsteps, and spent a fair amount of time working in the family grocery business, Stockton Super Value, which operated three stores in town for many years.
After high school, R.J. went on to attend Drake University for two years, followed by a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army and posting at Ft. Riley, KS. R.J. met his first wife, Cynthia Teare, in Manhattan, KS, and was married in 1966. R.J. remained in Kansas for nearly 30 years, most of which was spent in Olathe, KS. During that time, R.J. had two sons, Adam and Aaron. He remarried in 1988 to Beth Vogel, and his family expanded to include Beth's son and daughter, Chad and Nicole.
R.J.'s first career after the Army was in the insurance business. In 1978, he entered commercial real estate and held various positions in sales and project management. In the late 1980s, R.J. developed an interest in the field of economic development and he pursued and obtained additional industry education and certification in that area. R.J. then launched his third career—economic development—in 1990 with the position of Director of the Economic Development Council in Cherokee, IA. R.J. spent more than a decade in Cherokee, which was highlighted with various achievements related to expanding, recruiting and retaining businesses in the Cherokee area. As a lifelong jazz enthusiast, R.J. was particularly proud of founding the Cherokee Jazz Festival, which remains an annual tradition.
In 2002, R.J. accepted the position of Executive Director of the Elkhorn Valley Economic Development Council, which served four counties in the Norfolk, NE area. R.J.'s accomplishments in Norfolk included developing an entrepreneur program, an award winning national marketing campaign, successful fundraising initiatives, and numerous business expansion projects as well as job growth.
Of R.J.'s interests and pursuits, writing was something he enjoyed throughout his life. He wrote a daily newspaper column in Olathe, KS for several years in the 1980s and sent out a weekly column of sorts to family and friends called "Sunday Notes," as well created numerous short stories and autobiographical accounts of his life. He also served as an occasional radio commentator for a National Public Radio station in Garden City, KS, and was involved in community theater in Olathe, KS. R.J. enjoyed traveling with his wife Beth and spending time with family, particularly in the family cabin in Colorado built by his father. R.J. was able to visit the cabin one final time during a family reunion in July.
R.J. is survived by his spouse, Beth Vogel-Baker; children Adam, Aaron, Nicole and Chad; grandchildren Zachary, Aidan, Kian, Ava, Luke, Melanie and Danielle. R.J. is predeceased by his brothers William and John.
R.J.'s celebrating of life service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 16, 2014, at the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City, 2508 Jackson St., Sioux City, IA 51104.
The family would like to thank the staff of AseraCare Hospice in Norfolk, NE for their care, compassion and dedicated service.