George Marvin Baker of Hollenback (Sugar Run, PA) died gracefully on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, 2013, at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, PA after a poised confrontation of more than 20 years with Parkinson’s disease. His wife was at his side. Born on May 29, 1933, he was the son of Ralph Lee and Nettie Cooper Baker. He was in his 80th year.
A native of Pavo, a small town in southern Georgia, Marvin grew up in a rural setting of peach and pecan orchards, tobacco and cotton fields, and gardens of sweet potatoes, okra and field peas in a town known as “Dixie’s Garden Spot.” He earned summer spending money loading watermelons in beds of straw on railcars headed north. Except for one grandmother who thought her flower garden was the most important thing in life (her garden was always filled with color), he was born into a family who thought the “flower” business and the “artistic” business inappropriate, so he was pushed toward education as a profession and also as a practical matter: science teachers always have jobs.
Valedictorian of his 24-member high school class at age 16, Marvin went on to work his way through Berry College in Rome, GA (in the college’s forty acre vegetable garden) and to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Science with minors in Education and English. He began his teaching career in small South Georgia high schools teaching whatever was needed: English, Typing, General Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, even Ballroom Dancing.
Unexpectedly drafted in 1956 between the Korean Conflict and the War in Vietnam, Marvin served as a cryptographer with the highest security clearance in the U.S. Army’s Far East Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. During his time in Japan, he also taught English to Japanese students and edited the Battalion newspaper. He remained in the U.S. Army Reserve until 1962. Returning to the United States, he moved to take a job at Lake City Junior College in Florida teaching college level Biology and Creative Writing and within three years was appointed Chairman of the Division of Science. He was awarded a number of Outstanding Teaching Awards and was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education
Teaching and learning, always improving his own skills, Marvin pursued the academic life of both creative student and creative teacher with graduate work at Birmingham Southern University and at the University of Georgia. He was awarded funding by the National Science Foundation for both Academic Year Institutes and NSF Summer Institutes, and he became a National Defense Education Act Fellow at UGA for four consecutive years. At the University of Georgia, Marvin taught Biology and Botany in the School of Arts and Sciences; he also taught in the UGA School of Environmental Design. In 1973, he took a position at a new unit of the University System of Georgia in Swainsboro, GA where he spent the rest of his career at East Georgia State College.
Marvin had a unique style of teaching coupled with a fine sense of humor, a rapier wit, and great compassion for his students; he was a master teacher who touched the lives of many people whether they were within or outside of the educational system. Formal lectures and labs, field trips, nature walks and retreats, plus all manner of books, debates, stories and humor, good food and a home always open to students at any hour of the day or night provided a venue for conveying every sort of information plus the desire to become life-long observers and risktaking learners.
He interacted with colleagues as well as students on an infinite number of issues and was well-known for his innovative skills at bringing diverse communities of individuals together in outdoor venues such as beautiful Sapelo Island on the coast of Georgia and Great Spruce Head Island in Maine to examine the interactions between the natural world and the influence of Homo sapiens. He retired in 1999 as Professor Emeritus of Biology in the University System of Georgia. Many, many students continued to seek his counsel, to keep in touch with him and visit him; he dearly loved them all.
Impressed with his control of color and design, his first grade teacher invited Marvin to go to Chicago for a summer with her where she worked with the Disney Company as an artist. Marvin’s parents thought that was entirely too far for a first-grader from Pavo and though he was eager (especially to ride on the train! And to see!), he didn’t go… so art remained on the sidelines… but his creative life never entirely disappeared. He loved to sing, to act, to read to others, to plant and cook, to paint and draw, to entertain. When opportunities arose, he directed plays and was involved with stage, set and costume design for college theater; he taught creative writing at the college level, and he created drawings and paintings as gifts for his family and friends. Always an artist at heart, he finally announced it when he retired from his science and education activities.
Scientists and artists are similar in that they are observers; both look at things closely and acutely. In that sense, a life in science and in education, a life of teaching others to see, is a wonderful preparation for an artist. Marvin approached his art as he had approached his teaching career, working constantly, treasuring the fellowship of other artists across many disciplines, preparing and enjoying exhibitions, talking intimately with those who purchased his work. His works are included in private collections in San Francisco, Boston, Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington and Atlanta. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1993, art became a solace when he could no longer move about easily in his cherished woods. Many of his most intimate works are filled with expressions of the natural world and with his curiosity, and they are able to communicate that deeply to the viewer.
He is survived by his beloved partner and wife of 45 years, Nancy Gamble Walker Baker of Sugar Run; two brothers, Larry Eugene Baker (Sandra) and William Lee Baker, both of Pavo, GA; a niece, Shannon Lea (Lee) Smith, and four grand-nieces/grandnephews of Cool-idge, GA. He was preceded in death by his parents and by one older brother, Charles Romelus Baker. He will be dearly missed by many, many friends and students.
Services will be private and at the convenience of the family.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that memorial contributions be forwarded to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Church Street Station, PO Box 780, New York, NY 10008 or to The Penn State Center for Private Forests (please contact Carol Leitzell at 814-863-0401 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information).
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the P. Dean Homer Funeral Home, 1 Grovedale Lane, Wyalusing.
To send condolences or sign the e-guestbook, please go to www.homerfuneralhome.com.