Deane Baker

Former U-M Regent Deane Baker died Oct. 19 in California at the age of 86.

Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library.

“He taught us about possibility, public service and an engaged life,” says his daughter Betsy Baker, associate professor at Vermont Law School.

Baker devoted his political life to strengthening public education, as an appointed trustee at Grand Valley State College and as an elected regent of U-M. In his 24 years as regent, he spoke up when others would or could not, a strong voice for conservative causes, aiming always for civility even in difficult debates, Betsy Baker says. He brought a builder’s eye to decisions about campus projects, from the new University Hospital to opening the green space between the Diag and the Rackham Building.

“He loved wide open spaces, the West, and always gave us a horizon, teaching his son to fly and instilling in his daughters early on the understanding that they could do anything a man could, without depending on one,” Betsy Baker says.

A child of Michigan, the Midwest and the Great Depression, he was born in Marquette April 29, 1925, and raised in Racine, Wisc., where his parents, Albert and Elizabeth (Berryman) Baker, ran a business machine repair shop. Joining the Air Force out of high school, he graduated from UW-Madison on the GI Bill and from Harvard Business School. He taught young airmen at Enid AFB, Okla., and, years later, young students at the U -M Flyers how to fly.

In business he was a builder, first of pipelines across the American West and from Liverpool to London, then of commercial buildings. The family moved from Ada to Ann Arbor in the 1960s, for his work in Detroit as president of HF Campbell Company. Seeing National Guard tanks roll into a burning Detroit in the 1967 riots shaped his civic life. He rebuilt public housing, went on to serve twice as president of the Detroit Urban League, and on the boards of the Economic Club of Detroit and Detroit Chamber of Commerce, receiving awards for civic leadership from Business Week and other organizations. He later formed the Deane Baker Company (aka Ann Arbor Group Inc.), whose projects included Newport West, an early and award-winning cluster condominium in Ann Arbor.

He is survived by his daughters Jamie Knauss, Wendy and Betsy Baker; his sister Rosemary Metzdorff; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death in April by his wife Marilyn, to whom he was married 59 years, and their son John in April 2001. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Deane Baker Scholarship Fund at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business or to Alzheimer’s disease research. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Dec. 3 at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.


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