Friday, October 15, 2021

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A community’s Tribute:
Warsaw remembers Stephen Baker, teacher, coach, son, husband, father

Brian Quinn/Daily News Photo & Story.
The Rev. Ryan Rovito leads the family of Stephen Baker to Thursday's memorial on the soccer field of the Village Park in Warsaw. Stephen Baker was a popular teacher, coach, and community supporter was killed in a car crash in Mount Morris on October 5, 2021.

Stephen Baker loved people, one of the speakers at his memorial Thursday afternoon said. The number of family members, friends, co-coaches and co-workers who gathered on the soccer field at Warsaw Village Park showed that the feeling was mutual.

“The purpose of this gathering is to cherish his memory, grieve his absence and celebrate his legacy,” said the Rev. Ryan Rovito as the memorial began. “May we find comfort from family and friends, encouragement from the memories of Steve’s life and hope in the eternal God — who holds us, cares for
us and provides us his grace and peace.”

Moments earlier, Rovito had led the Baker family to its seats in the first row. The stage he and others spoke from was adorned with a wreath and a few bouquets of flowers, each of which bore a ribbon that said “Daddy,” “Loving Husband,” “Loving Son,” “Brother,” “Brother-in-Law,” “Uncle” or “Nephew.”

Stephen Baker. 41, passed away Oct. 5 in a car crash in Mount Morris. He was a graduate of Genesee Community College who earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Roberts Wesleyan College and his master’s degree in reading literacy from Buffalo State College.

He was an elementary school teacher at Warsaw Central School for 19 years and was a major part of the athletic program, recently serving as the junior varsity volleyball coach. Baker also served as the varsity basketball coach and coached the junior varsity and modified basketball teams. He had also coached the modified baseball team. Baker also ran the youth basketball program at the school.

In the community, he was president of the Youth Baseball Board in Warsaw. He was involved in coaching all of his children’s activities. He and Janelle had three children — daughters, Kinsley and Delaney, and son, Lennon. Baker was an active participant in the Valley Chapel Free Methodist Church in Warsaw and was an avid Duke Blue Devils fan.

It was an emotional time for many of the speakers. When Baker’s wife of 14 years, Janelle, came to the podium, she said the first thing she wanted to do was thank the community for the outpouring of love it showed the Baker family the past week. “It has been heartwarming. All of this is truly appreciated,” Janelle Baker said. Everyone keeps telling her there are no words so she decided to add her own, Janelle said, looking out at the gathering.

“To the world, you were just a man, but to me, you were everything,” she said of her husband.“When I met Steve, I had no idea how much my life would change. A love like ours happens once in a lifetime. When Steve came into my life, I realized that what I always thought was happiness could not compare to the love, joy and comfort Steve brought to my life,” she said.

Janelle said she often joked about the fact that, though Warsaw was her hometown, Steve was the local celebrity. “Anytime I would meet someone, they would say, ‘Oh, you’re Mr. Baker’s wife,’ and I would smile, for that title is the one I love the most,” she said. “Early in our marriage, we had always talked about having a big family. I wanted six children. He wanted two. So we compromised with three.”

When people tell her they’re sorry for her loss, Janelle said, she wants to reply with, “Which one? ... To me, Steve was my husband, the father of my children and my best friend,” she said. “That’s three losses in one. I know I cannot speak to the impact that Steve had on every person — just me. He gave me the best 16 1/2 — and yes, I include that ‘half’ — because, in circumstances like this, that is everything — years of my life.”

Stephen Baker’s parents, David and Cindy Baker, also came up to the podium. Cindy Baker said her son made himself who he was, often by the choices he made — “often tough choices, always good choices.” Steve came into the man he was, his mother said, when he came to Warsaw.

“He absolutely loved this town. He called it his town,” Cindy Baker said. “He loved the people, the small-town ways almost as much as he loved his family. Warsaw gave Steve his wife — our Janelle — and, together, they blessed us with three beautiful grandchildren ...”

Warsaw gave Steve his teaching position, but what many didn’t know was, on the day he accepted the job at Warsaw, he was also offered a position with Honeoye Falls-Lima. “Steve opted for Warsaw and he never, ever looked back. He chose to be the best possible teacher he could be — loving, caring, but we’ve got to tell you, he also loved those snow days,” Cindy Baker recalled as some in the audience laughed.

Steve’s sisters, Corissa Goodenbery and Stacie Gell also came up before the crowd and Gell shared some remarks. She said sibling rivalry was never the case with her, Corissa and Steve.

“We all, just truly and genuinely, enjoyed each other’s company. If you knew us growing up, Steve would often have one or both of us with him wherever he went, even as a teenager,” Gell said. “You might think that it was just his little sisters tagging along, but it was never that. We were there because he wanted us to be there with him and we wanted to be with him as well. We looked up to him for so many different reasons.” Those reasons, Gell said, included his kindness, sense of humor, his character and his success in life.

Matthew Hare, who coached Little League and youth basketball with Steve Baker, said when Steve arrived at the gates of Heaven, he would have heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Hare also described Steve Baker as the “yin to my yang.” He gave examples of how the two of them were opposites as coaches. Where Steve was cool and calm, Hare would be a little hotheaded, he said. Where Steve would be patient, Hare would be impatient. Where Steve would say to kids, “You got this,” Hare would say, “What are you doing?”

“You got this” became part of the theme for Hare’s thoughts about Steve Baker. He recalled Steve, as a coach, encouraging each of his kids by saying, ‘You got this.” Making a connection between that quote and what the Baker family is going through, Hare said, “I have to believe Steve is in Heaven, looking down right now, saying, ‘Come on Janelle, you got this.’”

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