Anyone who knows Stephen Baker wouldn’t be surprised to hear that, upon learning Brattleboro Memorial Hospital wanted to honor him and his wife, Jane, at the February 12 “Giving from the Heart” Gala, his first reaction was to keep it low-key. “But Jane and our son, Jim, pointed out that the family has been very much involved with the hospital,” he says. And indeed, when Stephen recounts his relationship with BMH over the years, he is more comfortable doing so in the context of the Baker family than his own personal involvement.
Of course, the story of the Baker family runs a corresponding line with the story of Brattleboro. Stephen can actually trace his ancestry back to the town’s founding, and both his parents were born and raised here. After deciding college life was not to his taste, Stephen’s father, James, borrowed money from his own father, to start a newspaper, magazine and stationery store on Flat Street in 1925. Two years later, Baker’s moved to the Main Street location it occupies today.
Stephen remembers his father joining BMH’s board of directors when he was 13, and his mother was so passionate about her role in the BMH auxiliary that she wanted to be buried in her pink smock. “I certainly grew up with them being involved with the community,” says Stephen, who has been a hospital corporator and has served on a number of committees, as well being a fundraiser for the addition of the Richards Building for outpatient services. “Also, part of my education at Choate and Middlebury impressed upon me that you can’t always take from a community, you have to give back.”
Jane Baker has also been an auxiliary member for over 50 years, following the example of her mother while growing up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. But her indelible contribution to the hospital is the founding of the breast cancer support group, which she co-founded with BMH staff Dion Eleftherakis and community members Carol Westing and Jane Sbardella in 1993. This support group, which started as a result of Jane’s diagnosis of breast cancer, operated on its own with BMH’s blessing, meeting twice a month. After a short period of time the coordination was handed over to BMH with some financial support provided by a grant that Jane wrote to the Thompson Trust. Shortly after the forming of this group her daughter in-law was lost to the disease.
“When I first got breast cancer nobody talked about it. So this was a place where women could go and share their information. We had some tears but we also had a lot of laughter,” Jane says.
Given the Baker’s family history with breast cancer — in addition to Jane and her daughter in-law, one of Stephen’s sister’s in-law also recently passed away after being 25-year survivor — it is fitting that Stephen and Jane are being honored during a year when the Gala proceeds are directed towards BMH oncology services. Jane can not say enough about the wonderful care she has received from BMH and the oncology staff. From Dr. Joe Rosen and Dr. Greg Gadowski to Kelly McCue, Breast Care Navigator to Agnes Mikijaniec, Oncology Nurse Manager and Oncology Physician Dr. Letha Mills the care, support and guidance has been has been invaluable. “There are too many to mention, and there is always the fear of omitting someone, but no matter the person the care at BMH has been incredible.”
“I think that health care is really essential, and having local health care makes a big difference in the community,” Stephen says. “I remember pitching a development idea once, and told them that the quality of the hospital was one of the reasons Brattleboro is so vibrant. It’s one of the town’s largest employers and the area’s high quality-of-life attracts top-notch medical staff. It’s a great community asset.”