Robert and Mary Ann Baker: New Life Members of TFA

By Ron Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service

Dr. Robert D. Baker, better known simply as Bob, and his wife Mary Ann are the newest Life Members of TFA. The couple reside in Bryan, not far from the Texas A&M University campus where Bob was a professor in the Department of Forest Science until he retired in 2000. He continued to serve as a visiting professor until 2003.

            But let’s start at the beginning. Bob was born on December 7, 1927 in Chico, California, but spent most of his childhood with his grandparents in the small town of Weaverville in northern California. Weaverville is a historic California Gold Rush town once home to some 2,000 Chinese gold miners. After the gold panned out (and gold mining no longer did), the town’s population declined; logging became the main source of employment for the 500 residents in the 1920s and 1930s when Bob lived there. “Growing up in the woods,” Bob says, is what drew him to a career in forestry.

He moved to Berkeley in the third grade and to Washington, D.C. in the mid-1940s. In 1946, he was drafted into the Army Air Force shortly after World War II ended. He left the military in 1947 as a corporal. After the war, Bob entered the University of California, obtaining an A.A. in general curriculum followed by both a B.S.F. and M.S. in forestry. He followed in the footsteps of his stepfather, a Berkeley forestry grad who worked for the U. S. Forest Service. In 1957, Bob received his Ph.D. in forest valuation from the State University of New York. He joined the forestry faculty at Stephen F. Austin State College (now SFASU) as an assistant professor in 1956, rising through the ranks to an associate professor in 1959 and to full professor in 1970.

            Shortly after he arrived in Nacogdoches, Bob became attracted to a local girl, Mary Ann Brooks, the administrative secretary at the School of Forestry. She would become Bob’s wife in 1958, even before he owned his first car. Bob likes to say “I married my chauffeur.” She was quite a catch. Born in Nacogdoches on May 16, 1934, Mary Ann attended Central Elementary and Nacogdoches High School, graduating in 1953. At that time, all twelve grades were on the same campus on Mound Street. She then attended SFA, receiving a B.A.A. in teaching with a minor in education before joining the forestry staff at SFA in 1956. She continued taking night and Saturday classes while working full time to obtain her M.ED degree and primary teaching certification.

Due to the nepotism law, husband and wife could not be employed at the same institution, so Mary Ann had to find another job. She went to work with International Paper Company in Nacogdoches, providing office support for IP foresters John Sandoz and Marvin Angle. She was responsible for preparing harvesting contracts and communicating with IP foresters via shortwave radio. After 10 years with IP and birth of a child, she became a full-time mom and homemaker.

Meanwhile, Bob continued to teach courses in aerial photograph interpretation and remote sensing at SFA. From 1970 to 1974, he had a joint appointment with SFA and the Department of Forest Sciences, before joining Texas A&M full time beginning in 1975. In 2000, after an additional 25 years at Texas A&M, he retired from the Department of Forest Science (now called the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management), but not before serving twice as interim department head. As Professor Emeritus, he returned to his book-lined office almost daily and served as visiting professor until 2003.

The Bakers have one daughter and two grandchildren. Their daughter Allison, an attorney, lives with her husband James Michael “Mike” Waters in Kansas City, Kansas. Both are graduates of Texas A&M. They have two children, Jack (age 15) and Julianne (age 18), recently accepted at Cornell University.

            Bob and Mary Ann remain dedicated to forestry. They own an 84-acre certified tree farm near Tatum in Rusk County. Bob joined TFA in 1957 and he and Mary Ann are frequent attendees at annual TFA meetings. Bob’s current medical condition is keeping him close to home. Needless to say, both he and Mary Ann are looking forward to this year’s annual meeting, to be held in College Station.

            Most Texas-educated forestry graduates can recall taking classes in aerial photo interpretation and remote sensing from Bob during his long tenures at SFA or TAMU. Over the decades, he has maintained his butch haircut, his friendly personality… and his sense of humor. According to former TAMU forestry professor and TFA member Mike Messina, “Bob could always be counted upon to say humorous one-liners about certain things.  When traveling in a car with him, whenever we'd pass a sign that said "Plant Entrance", Bob would say, "stomata."  It didn't matter if we passed five such signs on the same trip, it was always "stomata."

In a forest valuation and finance class he took from Bob at SFA, TFS retiree and TFA member Joe Pase recalls Bob once returned results of a test to Joe with the remark to the class “Joe made the highest grade in the class, but it doesn't necessarily reflect what he knows." Bob had a reputation for a cluttered desk and meticulous record keeping, too. The author’s daughter Susie, who worked as a word processing operator in the TAMU Department of Forestry when Bob was on the faculty, once observed “Dr. Baker is so conscientious - he makes a copy of everything he throws away.”

Dr. Baker is a strong supporter of and contributor to forest history in Texas, and is author of numerous scientific and technical articles. Indeed, his voluminous resume contains 25 pages of published articles, reports, short courses, testimonials on forestry issues, and consulting assignments. In the early 1980s, he collaborated with Robert S. Maxwell at SFA to co-author the historical book The Sawdust Empire: The Texas Lumber Industry, 1830 to 1940.

Bob and Mary Ann are members of the First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, where Bob is an Elder. Bob also is a member of Kiwanis International, having served as President and Director of the College Station Kiwanis Club. He is a dedicated fan of former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and tapes all his games.

As a recognized expert on forest taxation and valuation, Dr. Baker perhaps is best remembered with gratitude for his key testimony on May 31, 1979 before the Texas State Legislature which was largely responsible for the passage of H. B. 1060. This bill provided much-needed tax relief for forest landowners, taxing their timberland on use-value of trees, not current property value.

            The Bakers decided to become TFA Life Members because “it was a good thing to do.” Throughout his 48-year career in forestry, Bob routinely encouraged forestry students to join TFA, considering it essential for all who practice forestry in the Great State of Texas. Bob was honored for his impressive contributions to forestry by nomination and acceptance into the Texas Forestry Museum’s TexasForestry Hall of Fame in 2003. The Texas Forestry Association welcomes its newest Life Members, Bob and Mary Ann Baker.