The importance of community is a lesson repeated over and over for Sen. Roy Baker. His great-grandparents, who traveled here from Pennsylvania in 1874, settled on land purchased from the Union Pacific Railroad for just $5 an acre. Over the years, they and other newcomers pulled together to build new homesteads and communities from scratch.
The senator’s grandfather D.W. Baker served his community as a member of the Nebraska House of Representatives from 1907-1913, and his father, William Baker, served on the school board of District 43, a grain elevator board and as a York County commissioner.
Upon graduating high school, Roy Baker understood that a strong school makes a strong community. He attended the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education and later returned for his master’s and doctorate degrees—also in education.
Baker spent the next few years teaching and coaching basketball in Central City and serving as school principal in Marquette. At only 28 years old, he returned to his hometown of Benedict as superintendent of schools. It was daunting to take on so much responsibility so young, but he was eager.
“I really wanted to be the person responsible for making things better in my community,” Baker said.
He has fond memories of every school he worked in, but his 13 years working just south of Lincoln as Norris Public Schools superintendent left perhaps the strongest impression. Baker was at the helm when an F4 tornado ripped through the community on May 22, 2004 — a day he will never forget.
The community response was extraordinary as people chipped in to help clean up and rebuild. Despite sustaining $35 million in damage to the school, students were able to return in the fall just a few weeks later than scheduled.
Baker said the experience was a tremendous exercise in perseverance and the importance of community.
“I learned how important it is to have the ability to handle a crisis while keeping my mental faculties about me and staying calm,” Baker said. “It was a phenomenal thing to have happen, but it really pulled the community together.”
Baker plans to apply those lessons to his service in the Legislature, saying he understands the importance of asking for help and working together with his colleagues on shared goals. Nebraska’s schools and students will be his top priority, but ultimately he hopes that citizens respect his service to his district and the entire state.
“It’s important to me that people see me as a statesman, not a politician,” he said.