Shirley and Roy Baker

Willoughby Volunteers that Made a Difference
 by Al Irwin, at the request of the Langley Heritage Society

It was an unfortunate fire that brought Roy and Shirley Baker back to Langley. But for the Township of Langley, it could be called a fortuitous fire, because the couple stayed, and became stalwart volunteers in their community.
Daughter Linda Baker recalls that her parents had been planning to build a new home in Surrey and Roy had lumber already piled on the lot, when the Willoughby house Roy had bought from his father had burned down.
Because the insurance company would only cover the loss if the home was rebuilt to be lived in, Roy and Shirley decided to move all the lumber from the Surrey lot to the Willoughby lot, and to rebuild their first home there.
They were no strangers to Langley.
Roy had been born in 1931 in Willoughby, and raised on Alexander Road (now 208 Street) the son of Ernest Edgar and Elizabeth (nee Treliving) Baker. Roy had an older brother Gordon, and a sister, Lillian.
Both Roy and Gordon, as young men, served as volunteer firemen in the Willoughby area.
Linda Baker says that when Roy was born, his father walked down Alexander Road, on his way to Murrayville, to register the birth at the Township Hall in Murrayville. Along the way, Ernest stopped to visit various Alexander Road neighbours, to fill them in on the good news of the Baker’s new arrival.
Congratulatory drinks were in order, and when Ernest arrived at the hall, he mistakenly registered his new son as Edward Roy, rather than Roy Edward, a fact which resulted in some sharp words from his wife Elizabeth.
But Linda said her father, nevertheless, was always called Roy.
He attended school both at Willoughby Elementary, and at Milner, and it was while playing baseball at Milner, in Grade 7 and 8, that he met a lifelong friend, Ted Smaback.
At the time the two boys were rivals on the field, Ted playing ball for Fort Langley.
Later Ted and his wife Alfie became neighbours to the Bakers in Willoughby, for 28 years. The couples had children of about the same age.
Alfie describes Shirley as “a wonderful caring person,” who didn’t seek recognition for her volunteer work.
“She was a kind of a behind the scenes worker,” said Alfie.
“They were both great people, good neighbours,” said Ted Smaback.
Smaback said that after attending high school at the original Langley Secondary School on Fraser Highway, Roy took a job at Canadian White Pine lumber mill in New Westminster, and became a planerman.
Shirley was born in Vancouver, in 1936, but her father, George Burdett, had grown up in Langley, and Shirley’s mother Frances in Port Kells. Shirley had a brother Robert, still living, and a little sister, Arlene, also deceased. Mother Frances is still living. She is 95, and lives at Harrison Landing.
Although Shirley began her schooling at Henry Hudson Elementary School in Vancouver, the Burdett’s moved to West Langley when Shirley was about 8 or 9 years old. She attended West Langley Elementary School and later Langley Senior Secondary.
Both, as children, were participants in the community life that revolved around their respective Community Hall.
Linda Baker recalls a family tradition of community involvement and volunteerism. Shirley’s parents, and her grandparents, George Sr. and Ada Burdett, helped build the West Langley Hall, along with their brother-in-law, George Kirby.
And her father Roy remembered being put to bed on a pile of coats with other young children, in the corner of Willoughby Community Hall, while his parents danced to music from a record player.
After Roy and Shirley moved their lumber from the Surrey lot to Willoughby, to rebuild the burned out house, they remained in Willoughby, although they built and moved to two new homes, all in Willoughby, Linda said.
Gordon Hill remembers Roy and Gordon Baker as older boys of Willoughby, while he was growing up.
“They were involved in the fire hall, and anything to do with the community.”
Hill came with his parents to Willoughby in about 1942, and recalls that there was no fire hall in the area at that time.
He remembers as a young child that a meeting was held at Willoughby Community Hall, to discuss construction of a fire hall. His own father attended, as did Ernest Baker.
The outcome was that Hill’s father donated land for the fire hall, and community volunteers helped to build it.
The Hill family got the land back after the war, when the fire hall was moved, and renovated into a house, which still stands in Willoughby.
Karl Dreise, president of the Willoughby Community Hall Society, said Roy Baker became more actively involved in the hall again in the 1980s.
“Both were very community oriented,” said Dreise, of the Bakers.
Shirley was an early member of the Langley Willoughby Women’s Community Institute, and also very much involved in the Heritage Society, he said.
“She put 100 per cent into the assignment, and she was very reliable.”
“Whenever we had a problem (at the hall) I could count on Roy and a few other neighbours being there lickety-split,” Dreise said.
He described Roy as easygoing and good natured.
“I could call on him, or he would take the initiative himself, and fix things.”
Alice Johnson, a long-time volunteer with the Willoughby Hall Society said that Shirley Baker was not only involved in the Women’s Institute, and the Langley Heritage Society, she was also an organizer for the Baby Clinic for more than 30 years.
“She was our membership secretary for Willoughby Hall, and for the Women’s Institute,” said Johnson.
Roy had been a great handyman who was always willing to help out at the hall, she said.
Linda Baker said her mother had been the organizer for the Baby Clinics, scheduling and notifying other volunteers and taking a volunteer position herself, for 37 years.
The volunteers took care of paperwork and other chores to free up the public health nurses who provided inoculations and other care for new babies and their mothers. She was among three nominees one year, for Volunteer of the Year, for her work with the Baby Clinics.
Shirley also won the Volunteer of the Year award from the Fraser Health Authority in 2007.  Daughter Linda said that when the executive was reading out her mom’s accolades he noted that Shirley had been volunteering longer than he had been alive. “Mom wasn’t too sure how to take that remark, but I know she was as gracious as ever,” Linda said.
In addition to her work with the Willoughby Hall Society, the Heritage Society and the Baby Clinics, Shirley Baker made time for other community work as well.
She served on a committee that spearheaded construction of the Al Anderson Memorial Pool in Langley City, and worked with the Langley Centennial Museum History Group, doing research on various original families of the area.
Baker said her father Roy, as well as being a volunteer handyman at the hall, always made the potatoes for the Harvest Dinner, as well as taking part in maintenance required after the dances.
At the hall dinners, Shirley took memberships for the hall, said Alice Johnson.
Roy died in May, 2002, while Shirley passed away in June of 2009. In addition to daughter Linda, the couple has a son, David. David lives in Merritt with his wife Susan, and daughters Lauren and Justine.
Shirley Baker left in her will money for the Langley Heritage Society, which the society proposes to use for an enhancement project at the Willoughby Community Hall to commemorate the couple’s community volunteerism.
The original Willoughby Hall, built in the 1920s, was destroyed by fire. It was replaced by the current structure at 208 Street and 83 Avenue, officially opened on Jan. 14, 1938, a year after the society was incorporated under the Societies Act.
According to Willoughby Hall Society president Karl Dreise, the hall continues today as a very active centre for the community, with a variety of activities, including dancing for young people.

Click to get more information about the restoration:

Willoughby Community Hall in 1982

Heritage Matters Concert organized and produced by Birthplace of B.C. Historic Trust


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