11 Nov Hutton Life: Reflecting Back
Bob Baker lived at the Hutton Settlement from 1935 – 1942, leaving the home at 16. We decided to sit down with him and reflect on life at Hutton all those years ago. Mr. Baker has been an engaged alumnus for countless years, including starting the Hutton Scholarship Fund, which has been matched and grown substantially throughout the years, and now has an endowment value of $490,000. He strongly believes in importance of education. We asked him to share his fond memories of Hutton and he began with the story of the menagerie he built behind the barn on the campus. The “barn boss” that worked there helped him build the cages and he spent his free time taking care of his animals in the menagerie, which included pigeons, chickens and rabbits. When asked if he ever got in trouble for doing so, he replied, “No one ever talked to me about it or told me not to. Who’s going to say anything? The barn boss helped me”.
When describing life in the cottage, he stated, “Think about it – we had over 20 boys in that cottage with one woman (Mrs. Barkley) taking care of us. We must have been like a ton of mice.” Baker remembers only one boy in the cottage having a mother outside of Hutton – the rest were all orphaned. One of his fondest memories is of the friendships he made while living at the Settlement. “When you have that many boys living together, you’re friends. You become brothers. I stayed lifelong friends with some of them.”
Baker talks about being barefoot most of the time in the summer and working a lot in the fields. When asked if he remembers being disciplined, he shares a story of sneaking down to the river with a group of the kids to go swimming. They got caught and were brought back. He says now he realizes how dangerous that river is. Baker “left his mark” on Hutton as a child, when a few of the boys climbed into the silos, up a plank that stretched to the roof of the barn (built by some of the kids) and carved their initials 30 feet off the ground in the ventilators. He laughs and explains, “Wouldn’t you know, I’m claustrophic now!”.
He continues his reflections, describing how the kids were always well-fed and well-clothed. They took part in all aspects of working the farm, taking care of the cows, horses, pigs and chickens raised on the campus. “Chickens were a delicacy in my day – not very many people had chickens.” They mowed the lawn with hand mowers and made tunnels in the ground for fun. He emphasizes that living at Hutton taught him how to work hard and be responsible, waking himself up at 4am every morning to milk the cows and take care of them. “There are two things I resent doing in my life”, he says, “leaving Hutton and quitting school when I was 16 and second, smoking cigarettes.”
We asked why he left when he did, and he chuckled and said “heck if I know!”. When he left, he passed down his menagerie to a fellow Hutton kid. He got a job working on a pig farm in Valleyford, WA, then went into construction, harvest work and a bakery before joining the Navy, where he was active for two years during World War II. While in the Navy, Baker says he realized quitting school hadn’t been a smart decision. He began taking GED courses and finished just after getting out of the service. Afterward, he went to WSU for a year on the GI Bill, attending Pre-Veterenarian school, and decided Vet school wasn’t for him, with his lack of a real educational background. He then went back to work in road construction and next in an auto glass and upholstery shop.
While working there, he decided to make use of the GI program again and started back at school at Eastern State College, where he studied to become an Industrial Arts teacher. He opened his own auto upholstery and renovation shop. When he got to the final year of his schooling, the time to do his student teaching, he had grown his business so much that he didn’t have time to finish that final phase.
Since, Baker has grown to be very successful in the business world of Spokane, with multiple businesses in town. His life has been an incredible journey. He says the whole world has changed since he lived at Hutton, but the most important thing he learned while living there is how to work hard and be responsible. He is very passionate about education, which was his reasoning for starting the Hutton Scholarship fund.