Family and friends said he will be remembered as a humble leader who loved God and loved people.
Baker began his service to the community in 1955 when he started pastoring at Broadway Baptist Church. He pastored the church for 38 years before retiring in 1993. During this time he raised eight children with his wife, the late Sarah Prentice Baker, and worked as an activist and public official to make historic changes in Clark County.
Baker played a role in the integration of Winchester High School in 1956, and was also a member of the Winchester Advisory Council, where he worked with local officials to solve issues within the schools and the police department.
Baker worked fervently to help members of the African American community find jobs and become first-time homeowners.
In 1979, Baker became the first African American to serve in public office in Clark County, when he was elected as city commissioner. He served as commissioner and vice mayor from 1980 to 1984.
Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said he’s known Baker since 1981 when he was serving as commissioner and Burtner was hired as city manager. He said the fact that Baker served as vice mayor during one of his terms as commissioner was a testament to how the community felt about him.
“The position of vice mayor is reserved for the person who received the most votes in the election,” Burtner said. “He was a great leader and the community recognized that.”
In 1990 he was nominated for the Smith-Wilson Award for Civil and Human Rights, and in 2000 was inducted into the inaugural class of Kentucky Human Rights Commission Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Baker, along with Roger Hurst, organized the Winchester-Clark County Christians United Against Drugs, and in 2007 he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
Baker’s son, William Baker, said his father will be remembered for his many accomplishments, but mostly for his dedication to being a servant of God.
“The most important thing to him was bringing people to God,” William said. “Serving God, letting people know about God and saving souls through God, that was so important to him and that’s his biggest accomplishment.”
William said his father wanted to be remembered using Acts 4:13, which says “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
“He wanted his greatest contribution to be as a servant of God,” William said.
William said his father’s work set an example for the African American community.
“I think the impact that he made when he ran for commissioner and was elected was huge,” he said. “It made other African Americans feel that they could accomplish things also through hard work. He was just a leader, but also a humble leader.”
Baker’s leadership and legacy were honored this year when the school for fifth- and sixth-grade students was named in his honor.
The new Henry E. Baker Intermediate School was dedicated Aug. 3 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Baker was able to cut the ribbon himself and Baker Intermediate Principal Josh Mounts said it was an honor to have him participate in the ceremony.
“I’m very happy that he got to be honored prior to his passing,” Mounts said. “He was so excited and thrilled about that, but at the same time he was humbled by it. It’s just a unique situation that you get to dedicate a building to someone while they’re still alive.”
Mounts said he and Assistant Principal Susan Jacobs had the opportunity to meet Baker for the first time when they were invited into William’s home before the dedication of the school.
“I’m not a Winchester native, so going in I had no idea who he was or what his life story was about,” Mounts said. “When we left we were just so proud that the school was named after him. His life story was very powerful and he impacted the lives of a lot of folks in our community.”
Mounts said he feels confident Baker’s legacy will live on with the school.
“We want to talk as a school, but want to continue to honor Mr. Baker’s legacy,” he said. “Hopefully we can establish some sort of award to honor a student at the end of each year to honor his legacy. Hopefully we can come up with some criteria that defines his legacy and select a student or two that exemplify his legacy.”
William said his father was thrilled with the school being named in his honor.
“The school, it shows how much love and respect the community and the people of Winchester and Clark County have for him,” William said. “There’s no way that could have been done without the support that the community gave him. He loved this community. He worked hard for this community, not just for African Americans, but for everyone.”
Mounts said one of the things that stood out to him most about Baker was his love and dedication to his family.
In addition to his eight children, Baker had 27 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
“You’d ask him about his accomplishments and he would always tie it back to his family,” he said. “That theme of family just resinated with everything he said.”
Mounts said Baker’s love for his neighbors will also be remembered.
“I remember he said that people are people,” he said. “No matter what their background or race or upbringing might be, people are people. I think you can definitely sense that with him and his family. There’s sense of a tight knit group that welcomed others in to the family. I think that his legacy will live on within our school and ours students and within the lives of the folks that he touched in his life.”
Burtner said he believes Baker will be remembered as a leader for the entire community.
“He will be remembered for being a leader not just for his church, not just for the African American community, but for all of Winchester,” he said. “He was concerned with fair treatment of all people and was concerned with the well-being of the whole community.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled through Scobee Funeral Home, but were incomplete at press time.