As general visitors, school children, and volunteers tour the historic houses of Odessa they encounter program areas apart from the period rooms designed to engage the visitor through hands-on, experiential interpretation. These are areas where nothing is off limits to an eighteenth century experience that allows the individual to “live history”. These spaces are furnished accordingly for various roles and activities typical of life in the village of Cantwell’s Bridge, as the town of Odessa was originally named. What is not known is that each of these areas has been skillfully designed by our Curator of Education, Johnnye Baker, and constructed for our use by her husband and behind the scenes HOF Volunteer Tom Baker.
Tom was born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania and raised in Lancaster County.Tom is a Purple Heart recipient who served in the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam. He is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans of America, and was the 1990 Delaware Disabled “Veteran of the Year”.
He graduated from Millersville University with a B.S. in Technology Education, specializing in woodworking, drafting and graphic design. Tom and Johnnye were married in 1973 eventually settling in Delaware. For the next thirty years both taught school in New Castle County. Tom first teaching in the Newport School District at Krebs Junior High School, followed by Conrad Middle School, and finally at John Dickinson High School. Johnnye and Tom retired from teaching in 1998.
Volunteering at Odessa—enhancing education
Upon retirement Johnnye joined the staff of the Historic Odessa Foundation and first developed our new K-5 school tour. Tom had the perfect skills required for constructing the workshop areas critical to the interactive nature of the program. After some smooth cajoling he agreed to take on the enormous task of fabricating the many reproduction tables, benches, cabinets, bookcases, shelving, chairs, outdoor shelters, and garden fences required to make the Delaware Colonial period come to life for some 3500 school children and the thousands of others who visit the Historic Odessa Foundation each year! Recently Johnnye has developed a new secondary school tour program focused on the underserved 6-12 student audience which will launch in the spring of 2016. Tom will be on hand to support her efforts just as he has been since 2006.
We sincerely thank Tom for his dedication to the Historic Odessa Foundation. It would never have been possible for us to offer one of the best school tour programs in the State without his creativity, skill and hard work.