April 10, 1968 - October 5, 2023
Dennis Wayne Baker, beloved son, brother, uncle, husband, father and stepfather, and elementary school teacher, died at age 55 of a cardiac arrest on his way to work on October 5th, 2023. He was born in Freeport, Illinois on April 10th, 1968, and attended Freeport High School. He graduated in 1988 with an Associates Degree from Highland Community College and attended Northern Illinois University. Dennis completed his BA in Elementary Education at UNC Chapel Hill in December 2002, just weeks before he became a father for the first time. His teacher schedule allowed him to be his daughter Elsie’s primary parent every summer since she was 6 months old and their special daddy-daughter bond strengthened as the years went by. In 2001, Dennis became a stepfather to Ennis’s boys, Jesse & Noah, when they were 5 and 7 and quickly earned a reputation for being the most playful adult they knew.
Dennis grew up in Freeport and Cedarville, Illinois where he was a member of the Freeport First Free Methodist Church. Dennis was on a traveling Bible Quiz team and his team won 2nd place in the 1983 National Bible Quiz Competition at Seattle Pacific University. Dennis was a sports fan who loved watching golf and tennis and was a lifelong Chicago Cubs and UNC Basketball fan. He coached Jesse’s rec baseball team for 2 years and showed up to cheer the kids on at all of their performances and sport events. He was the parent who was always game for what the kids wanted to do, whether it was things he made up like “monster chase” and “sack game” or amusement and water parks, trampolines, Catan, Uno or big splashes off the high dive and spider game in the Heritage Hills pool.
Dennis loved playing frisbee golf with his dog and/or his friends, and camping alone with his dog, with his camping mentor, Razi, and occasionally with one of his kids or Ennis. He had set a goal of hiking “the best parts” of the Appalachian Trail and had covered over 200 miles. One of his favorite camping destinations was the Uwharrie National Forest. He was the kind of hiker who greeted everyone he passed and took every chance to let his dog exchange sniffs with another dog on the trail.
In recent years, he and Ennis prioritized stand-up paddleboarding on local lakes and yoga in their basement “zen den”. Dennis seized opportunities to golf with his friend, Steve, to bike with Ennis or friends and to relax or sleep in hammocks. He had been fascinated by stars, the solar system and the moon since he was a child and loved to share his vast knowledge of astronomy with anyone who would listen and look up with him. He looked forward to witnessing the solar eclipse with Ennis’s Texas family over the family ranch land in Texas this spring. His daily routine of walking his dog (Jazz and Biscuit who passed away, and his new husky pup, Aurora/Rory) helped him decompress from the stress of teaching 5 and 6 year-olds all day.
Dennis and Ennis met at the Durham Developmental Evaluation Center in 1997 where they both worked and were married in 2001. Dennis & Ennis rhymed in every way. They were poetry in motion. Dennis & Ennis’s Facebook and Instagram pages give a glimpse into their shared love of live music and exploring small towns, national parks, lakes, beaches and trails. They recently celebrated their 22nd anniversary in Kitty Hawk, NC and danced together to their song “They Love Each Other” by the Grateful Dead in the sand dunes at sunset at one of their favorite places, Jockey’s Ridge State Park. They were savoring their new phase of life as empty nesters and looked forward to hiking in Nevada and Utah and celebrating New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.
Dennis taught first grade and kindergarten at Pittsboro Elementary in Chatham County from 2003 – 2015 and Eastway Elementary in Durham from 2015 to the day he died. His students looked forward to his hugs, his stories about his dog and his adventures with his family. He brought yoga into his classroom to ease transitions and help the students focus and settle. He met the challenge of teaching Kindergarten virtually from his basement and through a mask when he returned to in-person learning during the pandemic. Dennis somehow made everything both more peaceful and more fun and he knew how important it was for the students to feel connected to him and to each other. He was a world class encourager who approached life with generosity, humility, openness and a strong drive to take care of people, the environment and his pets.
We are so concerned about the impact of this sudden loss for the many children who he taught over the years and have worked closely with his school family to come up with a way to provide tangible, easy-to-access support to his school. In lieu of flowers or gifts for his family, they would like to establish a fund that would honor him and his years of teaching in under-resourced schools serving children and families who often feel marginalized and isolated. He loved his students and told them so, and they deserve to be reminded that they matter – even to people they have never met. For more details and to donate, please click on this link: Mr. Baker’s “Eastway Eagles Soar Together” Fund.
Dennis is survived by his wife Ennis Baker, his daughter Elsie Baker, his stepsons Jesse Dellea and Noah Dellea, his mother and father June and Darrell Wayne Baker, his sister Cynthia Marsh and brother-in-law Greg Marsh, Aunts and Uncles – Barbara Myers, Richard and Glenda Baker, Linnie Belasco, Janet Beckman, Patty Crouse, Duane and Sheila Brinkmeier, Dean Brinkmeier. Nieces and Nephews – Daniel Marsh, Jason & Amber Marsh, Jeremy and Angie Moreland, Stephanie and Ian Madore. Great Nieces and Nephews – Micah and Eliana Marsh, Kyla Driscoll, Lydia, Cidnee, and Trinity Moreland. In-Laws (Ennis’s family) – Roy Blount, Jr. and Joan Griswold, Ellen Pearson, Kirven Blount and Amos-Amey Blount, Myra Raney and Molly Raney.
He was predeceased by Teresa Moreland (sister), Weldon and Elsie Brinkmeier (grandparents), John and Dorothy Baker (grandparents), Ronnie Baker (uncle), Roger Baker (uncle), Doug Baker (uncle), Norma Harper (aunt), Georgiann Sines (aunt), Donna Baker (aunt).
A Celebration of Dennis’s Life will be held at Pluck Farm on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 from 4:00-9:00 pm. The event will begin with time to connect with each other. Guests will have the option to play a few holes, or a round, of frisbee golf on the course where Dennis “ace’d” the 14th hole where a bench created by local artisans will be installed to honor him. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic options will be served and the food truck La Vaquita will serve food from 4-8pm. The service will be held from 5:45-8 and anyone who would like to take the mic to say or read something or share a story or a memory will be encouraged to seize this opportunity. From 8:00-8:45 the band The Unsustainables will play to end the event with joy, dance and music. We ask that people bring a candle that they will light as they leave the celebration to bring the light that Dennis brought into the world home with them. Since temperatures may be chilly and we will be outside, please dress warmly and in casual attire. Children are welcome and there is a small play area and open space to run around.