Northark mourns passing of founding President Dr. Bill Baker

Mon Jan 9, 2017 at 08:31 AM

Dr. Bill BakerNorth Arkansas College will close offices and classes on Thursday, Jan. 12 from 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. to allow employees and students to attend the funeral of the College's founding President, Dr. Bill Baker who passed away Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.  The funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. in the L.E. "Gene" Durand Center at the Center Campus located in downtown Harrison.

Dr. Bill Baker was North Arkansas College’s first employee, starting work on March 1, 1974.  He served the College for more than 27 years, retiring at age 68 and staying nearly three decades in a job as president of a two-year college where the average term nationwide was about four years. 

Dr. Baker led off-campus programs that paved the way for two Arkansas colleges, NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and ASU-Mountain Home.  Those exist because Northark, under Baker’s leadership, demonstrated the need in their service areas.  Credit and non-credit courses served more than 100,000 people during his term of service.

Northark achieved several “firsts” during Baker’s tenure.  One of the most important was the 1993 merger of Northark and Twin lakes Technical College, the first consolidation of a community college and a technical college in Arkansas. 

Baker understood that access was the key to education and another first occurred when Northark teamed with the Ozarks Unlimited Resources Educational Cooperative to offer Arkansas’ first fiber optic interactive television classes to high school students in Boone, Carroll, Marion, Newton and Searcy Counties.

Baker contacted Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt about displaying his memorabilia on campus.  That conversation resulted in a highly successful fund drive and the construction of the John Paul Hammerschmidt Business and Conference Center.  Former President George Bush Sr., a close friend of Congressman Hammerschmidt, visited Northark to dedicate the building on Sept. 11, 1997.  President Bush, who was Vice President of the United States at the time, was last on Northark’s campus May 19, 1985, to dedicate the John Paul Hammerschmidt Plaza.

The college surprised Dr. Baker with an announcement at a 1996 Board meeting by naming the Bill Baker Amphitheatre after him. Baker then said “My time at Northark has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.”  True to form, he recognized college employees who had worked with him over the years in what he labeled “a team effort.” The Bill Baker Amphitheatre was dedicated in 2000 in honor of Dr. Baker and in 2001 the BBB Bar-B-Que Blowout celebrated Dr. Baker’s retirement.  The Bill Baker Amphitheatre has hosted acts such as Charlie Daniels, Loverboy, Little River Band, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Northark Summer Movie Series for the enjoyment of local residents.

On the 40th anniversary of the College, the Commencement ceremony honored Dr. Baker for his contributions and featured a video about the history of the College. 

Dr. Baker was recently named a “2016 Man of Distinction’ by the Harrison Daily Times for his contributions and character.  He and his wife, Bonnie are beloved by everyone who has met them.

His own unofficial motto for Northark:  “Helping people grow, one at a time.”  It’s all about serving people.  “That’s our mission,” Baker said.  “That’s what we’re all about.”

Dr. Randy Esters, Northark’s president commented by saying “Dr. Baker’s contributions to Northark have made the College what it is today.  He welcomes everyone with open arms.  I was fortunate enough to meet him and spend about four hours with him when I first came to Harrison.  I learned all I need to know about being the President of Northark in that time.  He is legendary and some people have compared me to him.  That’s the best compliment I could ever receive.”

North Arkansas College is committed to providing an educational and work environment for its students, faculty, and staff that is free from sexual discrimination including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence. No form of sexual discrimination will be tolerated. See the full North Arkansas College Title IX Policy and Procedures for the specific definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including examples of such conduct.