By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Known as the Cherokee Nation’s “first mother,” longtime educator Dr. Isabel Baker passed away on Monday, September 2 (May 26, 1929 – Sept. 2, 2019).
Born in Row, Oklahoma, later named Colcord, Dr. Baker served in public education for over 43 years. Her teaching career began in 1950 at the age of 20, after she received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Northeastern State University. Isabel was 23, married to her late husband Tim Baker and had three children when she received her master’s degree from Oklahoma State University. She later received her Doctorate from OSU in 1972.
Her public-school career has included positions at Shidler, Sapulpa and Tahlequah. In Higher Education, she taught at Morehead State University, Northeastern State University and Oklahoma State University, retiring as professor emeritus.
In addition to her surviving brother Bill Keith and his wife Vivian, she leaves her son Tim Keith and his wife Diana, Donn and his wife Sharon, and Bill John and his wife Sherry. Tim Keith and Donn are both attorneys and Bill John Baker is the former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
She is also survived by her 13 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren.
Baker was appointed to the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents by Governor David Walters in 1991. She was recognized as a champion of gender equality and was the recipient of several awards for those endeavors. She was a member of Oklahoma Woman’s Hall of Fame, Oklahoma State University Hall of Fame, Distinguished Alumnus at OSU, Oklahoma Mother of the Year and many other honorary awards.
Dr. Baker served on the Board of Directors of the Tahlequah Chamber of Commerce and was selected as a Board Member of the Year in 2010. She also served as a Board of Director with the Bank of Cherokee County and was the first woman in sixty years to serve as a Board Director with Tahlequah Public Works.
Having recently met with Isabel, Walters posted the following statement on Facebook, “I am so thankful that I had a chance to visit with her in Tahlequah a month ago. Despite her frail condition she could still make me laugh.
“Everyone leaves a hole in this world when they leave and this lifelong educator, OSU regent and political leader on the state and national stage leaves a giant void for her family and thousands of friends,” Walters added. “A few like Isabel, fill that hole with thousands of students, candidates, family and friends that she has inspired and propelled along the way. Godspeed my friend.”
Honors and awards received by Baker include: Oklahoma Woman’s Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Mother of the Year, OSU’s College of Education Hall of Fame, Northeastern State University’s President’s Award for Community Service, Health and Aviation Hall of Fame, and NSU Centurion.
A press release from the Oklahoma Democratic Party stated, “The Oklahoma Democratic Party is saddened by the passing of Dr. Isabel Keith Baker, a distinguished scholar, and advocate for education.
“Dr. Baker touched many lives, and her passing is a great loss to the community. Our condolences go out to Dr. Baker’s son Bill John Baker, former Chief of the Cherokee Nation and to the Baker family,”
As recently as last June, Isabel was honored with the Carl Albert Award – a lifetime award from the Oklahoma Democratic Party during the state convention, held in Oklahoma City. Walters introduced Baker as “the matriarch of the Oklahoma Democratic Party” at the event..
“The most refreshing aspect of her legendary political activity is that it was never about her, or her family – or an effort to increase her political influence,” Walters told reporter Renee Fite with the Tahlequah News Press.
“She has served in every support position within the Democratic Party. All of that experience made her a political powerhouse,” Walters continued.
“It was always about education, kids, health care, better jobs and those members of our society living in poverty,” Walters said. “This willingness to work, organize, call, cajole, fund raise, campaign, get ads in the local papers, get surrogates to local events, was all for the benefit of improving the lives of others.”
A funeral honoring Dr. Baker will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, September 6, at the First United Methodist Church, 300 W Delaware Street, in Tahlequah. Family and friends may visit on Thursday September 5 at Hart Funeral Home, 1506 N Grand Avenue, from 12. to 8 p.m.