By Rowynn Ricks
Everyone knows that family farms never really make a lot of money, but that did not keep Frank Baker from building a successful farm or from showing generosity to his friends and neighbors.
Frank Baker’s farm, which he homesteaded in the early 1900s, is still in the family today, operated by his nephew Don Shepherd, and has been recognized as a centennial farm.
Frank Baker came from Harper, Kan., in 1901 with his brother, George Baker, and their brother-in-law to locate land on which they could homestead. They were eventually able to find three quarters of land next to each other and the men returned the following year to claim their land west of Catesby.
George’s farm is also still in the family and is operated by Frank’s son Ralph Baker, and like Frank’s farm, it has also earned the honor of being recognized as a centennial farm by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Ralph is proud that his father and uncle were able to make it through some very trying times and make their farms thrive so that now he and his cousin can continue the legacy of their forebears.
“We’ve been farming for 105 years,” he said.
He said he is especially proud of his father who worked hard and was able to not only provide for his family, but was also able to help so many others.
But Frank had to overcome a lot, he said, from living in a dugout for three years after first moving to Oklahoma to watching the barn burn down after being struck by lightning to struggling with one of the biggest things that can help make or break a farmer, the weather.
He said one thing that helped his father was very careful money management.
“He never made a whole big lot of money but he was pretty careful about it,” Ralph said.
Even though Frank did not even finish the sixth grade, Ralph said he knew enough about interest and borrowing that he was able to stay out of trouble.
Ralph said Frank taught him about interest by telling him, “the thing you have to remember about interest is that it goes on while you’re asleep.”
He said that even during the Great Depression when a lot of people were in trouble, his father was able to stay out of debt.
Ralph said his father knew that “if things didn’t turn out well in a year, the answer wasn’t to go borrow money it was to work harder.”
He said his father told him that at one time the only bit of money he had left in the world was a silver dollar, and he held on to it so long that it was eventually worn completely smooth.
And during World War II Frank further proved his shrewd financial skills by obtaining $40,000 worth of war bonds, Ralph said.
To this day Ralph said he does not know how his father was able to get that much money.
He said he also does not understand how, with all the problems he had to face while farming, his father was able to continuously give to others.
But above all it would seem that generosity is what Frank Baker was known for.
Yet, he was a humble man, Ralph said, noting that it was not until after his father died that he truly learned just how generous his father had been.
“He was always doing things for people,” Ralph said.
He said his father would always help neighbors get the medical care they needed, whether it was riding the 20 miles to Shattuck on his saddle mare “Kit” to fetch Dr. Newman for a neighbor who was ill or driving those same 20 miles in his Model A Ford to take a neighbor girl who had broken her arm to the hospital.
Frank also helped several neighbors get their start in farming, he said.
In fact, one time a neighbor approached Frank because he owed taxes and was about to lose his land, so he wanted Frank to pay the taxes and take the land as his own, Ralph said. His father then agreed to pay off the debt, Ralph said, but instead of taking the land, he gave it to the original owner’s son-in-law who was wanting to get started farming but could not afford it.
That man then became one of his father’s dearest friends, he said.
Frank helped many others less fortunate than himself and in more ways than just giving them loans to start farming.
Ralph said that after his father died, he learned that his father had once agreed to pay for groceries for several local families who could not afford food themselves.
Ralph said he learned that the families had been charging their groceries, but the store owner could not afford to let them charge anymore because no one was paying their bills. He said that is when his father stepped in, telling the store owner to allow those with children to keep charging their food and he would pay the bill.
From his generosity to his financial wisdom, Ralph said he has learned a lot from his father and has tried to build on those lessons to continue his success.
Perhaps others in today’s generations might be able to learn something as well from this story of one of Oklahoma’s first pioneers.
By Rowynn Ricks