AALP’s Robert Smith and Al Baker Chat About the Past and Present

The Baker Family – Erin Baker, Beverly Baker, Al Baker, Amari Baker, Barbara Baker. EdD, Carolyn Baker

The Truth Staff

Robert Smith and the African American Legacy Project, in collaboration with WJUC, The Juice, 107.3, have initiated a series of live, hour-long interviews, conducted before a live audience at the AALP headquarters.

The second session of the series occurred on Thursday evening, December 15, and featured a chat between Smith and Al Baker, former chairman of the board of Trustees at the University of Toledo, whose family has bestowed upon the AALP a grant in the amount of $30,000.

Smith and Baker reviewed the latter’s role with UToledo, his long career in business as an Owens Illinois vice president and his quite amazing family and their accomplishments.

Baker was approached to be chairman of the board of trustees in 2019 and “reluctantly” accepted he said. He was reluctant because of the time and work involved and because of the level of scrutiny the job would bring. He ultimately decided to do it because of “the significance,” of the appointment. The significance was that he would be the first African-American chairman.

Rodney Eason, Paul Hubbard, Dr. Houston Johnson, Al Baker

During his tenure, he takes pride in three “major accomplishments” that he helped to guide the board and university through. First, the university saved the Medical Center and “got it back on its feet and righted that ship,” said Baker of that part of the institution that was on the verge of closing several years ago.

Second, the university “navigated COVID” by introducing virtual learning and “keeping the university operating.”

The third major accomplishment, said Baker, was bringing in a new president, Dr. Gregory Postel, MD, during that difficult early pandemic period. “It was a challenge to find the right person under those conditions,” he noted.

Baker’s ties to UToledo began much earlier than his appointment to the board of trustees in 2016. A graduate of Scott High School, Baker entered the university on a football scholarship in 1968 and became part of the famous group of scholar-athletes who were undefeated – 35-0 – during that Chuck Ealey period of 1969 to 1971.

Baker was a longtime employee of Owens Illinois and served as vice president of human resources – the first African American in that position – from 1992 until his retirement in 2006.

It’s certainly a lengthy record of accomplishments for Mr. Baker, but he may not be the most accomplished person in his family of six siblings.

Al Baker and Robert Smith

Baker’s parents, Frank and Molene Baker, both Alabama natives, moved the family to Toledo in 1952 when Al was two years old. Although the father Frank had only been permitted to complete the eighth grade in the segregated South, he was a strong advocate for education and made sure his children received that message.

“We grew up poor but we didn’t know it because our parents stressed character and faith above all else,” said Baker of his upbringing. “Our parents gave all their efforts in making sure their six children were educated and would do better than they did.”

Among the six, there is a medical doctor, one with a doctorate in education, one with a doctorate in nursing, an engineer, a minister and a businessman – all with successful careers.

The next generation of Bakers is maintaining that record of success. Al Baker’s nephew, Frank and his wife Laura, have been instrumental in putting together the $30,000 grant for the African American Legacy Project.

The AALP one-hour program was unveiled in November with its initial offering and first interview with William McDaniel, The Ohio State University’s long time Jazz Studies program director and African American Studies administrator.