Columbus, Ohio USA
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Harold E. Baker (1925-2015)
Reliable Advertising Company Patriarch Passes
By Margaret Marten
January/February 2016 Issue
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Harold Baker © courtesy photo
The Short North lost a longtime business owner on November 5, 2015, when Harold Baker died at his home in Reynoldsburg at the age of 90.
Baker operated Reliable Advertising & Distributing Company in Italian Village with his son Don for over 40 years before retiring in 2015 after he was diagnosed with cancer. The business, which remains under the direction and ownership of his son, is located at the corner of E. Third Avenue and Summit Street in a former filling station, employing half a dozen workers who bag and distribute advertising flyers and newspapers door-to-door, including the Short North Gazette.
Baker purchased Reliable in 1974 from Jack Hackman who’s father founded the business in 1932 in German Village. The Reliable truck currently transports its workers to Columbus inner-city neighborhoods where the carriers can be seen in all kinds of weather (similar to the U.S Postal Service) balancing their shoulder bags weighted with material, making deliveries.
Baker was born in 1925 near Toledo in Perrysburg, Ohio, later moving with the family – two brothers and a sister – to nearby Rossford. He grew up during the Depression when the garden fed the family, and his father “couldn’t even spare a penny.” At one point, without work, his folks operated a speakeasy or “bootleg joint” in their home – the father selling homebrew and his wife sandwiches. In his journal, written shortly before his death, Baker remarks that a lively bunch of customers showed up every night, but during that period he and his brother never had time for schoolwork because they had to wash out all the beer bottles in the bathtub when they came home from school.
In spite of those earlier hardships, Baker later enjoyed sports in high school – boxing and playing football, and even took up the clarinet and performed in a marching band but admits he did not want to study or practice and that his report cards “clearly reflect that.” His goal was to serve in the U.S. Navy during WWII like his two older brothers, so once he graduated from High School in 1943, he signed up. While in aviation school, he developed an appreciation for study and worked hard to develop the skills in radio communication that he would utilize throughout his service until 1946.
He spent his last two years based at Vero Beach, Florida, patrolling the east coast as a radio operator and gunner in a two-man Helldiver.
He returned to Rossford after the war, married Dorothy Mae Moninee in August 1946, and took up a variety of occupations over the years that included running his father’s rubbish business, later launching a home-improvement service named Ross Builders, working as a manager for Weather Tite in Kalamazoo, opening a steel ornamental storm door company on E. Main Street in Columbus called Iron Gate, as well as selling replacement windows (that won him a trip to Hawaii) before finally dedicating himself to Reliable Advertising for almost half a century.
Baker was an avid woodworker, building ornamental boxes, furniture, toys, clocks, and glass cabinets to share with family, friends, and organizations like the Honor Flight Network. He made two flag cases for veteran funerals. Even as his illness progressed, he was still hoping to get back into the shop and make some more wooden toys.
Harold Baker (in his 80s) maneuvering a load of Short North Gazettes off a truck to place inside the building.
Over the years while visiting Reliable to pick up Gazettes, I would occasionally engage in conversation with Harold. He was usually happy to see me, smiling and eager to talk and share a hug. I learned about his woodworking, his love of books, reading, recent travels and family matters. No doubt this warmth and openness, his friendliness, is what drew him to become involved in half a dozen organizations, including the Masonic Lodge, Elks Club, Scottish Rite, York Rite, Aladdin Temple Shrine, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and his beloved Helldiver Squadron of the Association of Naval Aviation.
In his journal he writes, “With my ailment, I am no longer able to attend lodge meetings. I sorely miss meeting with the Helldiver Squadron monthly. They are such good company with a lot of historical stories. I love them all.”
But most of all he loved his wife of 69 years, Dorothy Baker, who faced health challenges of her own. Although afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, she remained at home, and with the help of family and professionals, he kept a close eye on her. Often when he left the house, she came along, even to the office, where he continued to work for short periods until several months before his death. When I encountered the couple there, she was gracious, stepping forward to greet me. Thin and small in stature, I later heard she was more than a handful. But even in the face of his imminent mortality, he was committed to her care. “It isn’t easy to be a 24/7 caregiver” he wrote, “but I have no choice.”
In the final stage of his illness, confined to the house, he continued to be purposeful and productive, keeping busy with domestic chores, baking bread, pies and other foods. Later, he adapted to a more mindful approach: “Here of late, my cancer is giving me more problems, so I mostly sit in my rocking chair and watch TV or read. I don’t know how much longer this ordeal will last, but I am ready to go whenever the good Lord calls.”
Baker was preceded in death by his parents Elmer and Pauline Baker, his brothers Carl and Bob, sister Ruth. He is survived by his wife Dorothy Mae Baker; sons, Brad, Don and John Baker; and daughter, Paula (Avery) Davidovich, seven grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
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