Dave Baker is one lucky guy.
Baker was tutored by three of the legends of teaching and coaching at Aitkin High School before graduating in 1980, and is currently a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Baker was a two-sport athlete at Aitkin, coached by Noel Bailey on the wrestling mat and by Truman Buisman on the baseball field.
He was also taught leadership by Lee Alto and that has been quite a help to the Willmar resident in his current endeavor.
“Lee really taught me how to take a leadership role and that life is a journey,” Baker said. “He was my best education teacher.”
Baker wasn’t born here but still considers it his home.
“Moving to Aitkin as a sophomore was so important in my life,” he said. “I had a lot going in Wayzata, but we came to the area almost every weekend and, eventually, my Dad commuted to the Cities for work and my mom and four siblings stayed here and got into the school system.
“What a lucky break for us,” he added. “I was an average athlete at Aitkin but I learned from two of the best.
Baker said that he can still see Bailey stomping his boots on the mat while he wrestled, “knowing that he was completely focused on what I was doing.”
“He always told me I could conquer anything,” Baker said, who wrestled along with his brothers Brian and Joe. “When I played baseball, Coach Buisman put me at catcher and always let me know when he couldn’t hear me yelling.”
Baker said he was lucky to have played with Joel Hyytinen, Jon Giese and Kevin Hoge and others, saying it was a great team and that Buisman helped him hone his leadership skills.
He has come a long way in his 40 years since attending Aitkin.
“I became part of the Paulbeck family when I was just 19,” he said. “I married Mary Paulbeck and we moved to International Falls and learned the grocery business from Phil Paulbeck.
“He told me to become community involved and try to make things better so we did,” he added. “I also got involved in the hospitality business, running numerous restaurants and hotels along the way.
Baker was hired by a hotel chain in Willmar, and once they landed there, they decided to stay.
It hasn’t been a perfect fairy tale. In 2011, the Bakers lost their son, Dan, to opioid addiction. Started on painkillers to treat a back injury, Dan became addicted.
The death hit the Bakers hard, but also got Dave to start thinking about how he could help with the huge opioid problem in Minnesota. Three years later he was elected to the Minnesota House from Kandiyohi County by a mere 214 votes.
“I knew I wanted to see change in Minnesota so I took a shot and was elected,” Baker said. “I found that the things I learned in athletics such as teamwork and serving people was a perfect training ground for the political world.
“I learned fast that you are humble when you win and you move on,” he added.
Baker is currently in his third term in the House and it’s not getting any easier.
“I know that the hospitality business is hurting right now and I have a lot of friends in that situation,” he said. “We are trying very hard to get something done for them so they can hang in there until things get better. When you have a personal involvement in it there are a lot of sleepless nights.”
Dave and Mary, who have been married for 35 years love the Aitkin area and get back as much as they can.
“We have so many memories of our growing up in Aitkin and we would be there now if we could do what we are doing here, but you have a great representative in Dale Lueck and we both care so much for the Aitkin area and the people of Minnesota,” he said. “The one thing that will never escape me though is the things I learned in Aitkin have set me on the path of my life.
“I am an Aitkin Gobbler and I always will be.”