Marge Baker Obituary

An icon of pioneer aviation in Northwest Arctic Alaska has been laid to rest. Marge Baker of Baker Aviation died while on vacation with her family in Mexico on Dec. 24. She was 79-years old.

Marge was born Nov. 30, 1932 in Kotzebue after her parents traveled by dog team from Selawik to Kotzebue for her birth. Her parents Louis and Clara Rotman ran Rotman’s store in Selawik and Kotzebue. Marge attended boarding school in Seattle and in 1957, she married Robert ‘Bob’ Baker. They made their home in Kotzebue and together started Baker Aviation in 1964.

Four years later, Bob Baker was killed in an aviation accident, leaving Marge to raise seven children on her own. Although the Baker family declined to comment after her death, Marge’s son, 2011 Iditarod winner John Baker spoke more about his mom than himself during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention last fall. Baker recounted to the AFN audience that he was 6-years-old when his father died.

“Never once did my mother exhibit being a victim of circumstances. She faced each challenge with dignity, humility and a can do attitude. My mother raised each of us to be independent, hard working and creative problem solvers,” Baker said.

Baker went on to highlight her extraordinary work as not only a widowed mom of seven, but also the first woman in Alaska to own an airline.

“For two decades, she was the only woman who owned and operated her own air taxi. She was eventually joined by her friend Rita Sholten with Northern Air Cargo and they made aviation history while providing an important service to the people in our rural communities,” Baker said.

John Baker said he found out his mom Marge had cancer on the same day he won the Iditarod.

Marge was on the board of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. She was the Kotzebue station manager for Alaska Airlines and also served on the NANA regional corporation board of directors. Northwest Arctic people remember her as a woman who cared deeply for those Baker Aviation served. One former Kotzebue resident recalled sending gallons of berries from Shungnak to the Kotzebue Senior Center free of charge on one of Baker Aviation’s planes, saying that kind of quiet assistance to others was a hallmark of Marge Baker’s personality.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin.

She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director.

In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN.

Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley.

She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests.

ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori