For more than 64 years, Mary Day Baker was a friend, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother to everyone who found their way into the Canteen and, later, The Shack. She passed away in Culver on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Barely older than some of the Culver Military Academy cadets she was serving, Baker started her career behind the Canteen’s counter as a soda jerk in 1941. She finished as The Shack’s head cashier – ever present on her stool – until Dec. 31, 2005.
“I love it,” she told the South Bend Tribune in a Nov. 4, 2003, article. “I have met so many nice people.”
Those people include the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who said in 2003 “There is only one Mary Baker, just as there is only one Culver. She is a very special, special and wonderful person, as good as any I have ever known.”
In 1998, Richard W. Foster ’61, as president of the Culver Legion, presented Baker with a “long overdue” Culver ring and honorary Legion membership. Presented during the Alumni Reunion Weekend, those present gave Baker a standing ovation, according to the Culver Alumni Magazine.
Jeff Honzik, a 1965 summer Horsemanship graduate and, later, director of Horsemanship, told the Tribune Baker “was the heart and soul of the Shack.”
The late Dean John Mars, who started at Culver shortly after Baker, told the Tribune, “For many cadets in those early years, it was not necessarily the allure of the food and opportunity for a break from the mess hall, it was the presence of this petite, pert and pretty waitress, whose warmth of personality, charm and ingratiating smile captivated all who wandered into the Canteen.
“She is a legend of Culver, and old alumni may still return to visit her to recapture, for a moment, their youthful amorous thoughts,” he added.
Baker said her importance in the lives of the Culver students was exaggerated.
“Most, I’ve enjoyed the kids,” said in the 2003 interview. “I’ve had a lot of fun; we’ve had great conversations. I have enjoyed meeting students of all nationalities and joking around with them all.”
All attributed quotes come from the Nov. 4, 2003, South Bend Tribune article “Something about Mary.”