HMC Second President, D. Kenneth Baker, Dies

Feb 01, 2012 - Claremont, Calif. -

D. Kenneth Baker, Harvey Mudd College's second president, passed away on Sunday, Jan. 29, at his home in Ithaca, NY. He was 88.

Baker became the second president of Harvey Mudd College in 1976 following Founding President Joseph B. Platt, who served for two decades. During his 12 years at the helm, Baker was instrumental in increasing the College's enrollment, facilities and prestige, and guiding the College as technical innovations and social changes occurred. He oversaw the acquisition of land and property to meet major campus needs, which included upgraded laboratories and construction of additional housing (Atwood and Case residence halls), allowing all students to be housed on campus at the time.

Additional accomplishments that occurred during Baker's tenure included work to establish the Biology and Computer Science departments, the computer "wiring" of the HMC campus (the first college campus in California to be completely wired), the naming of the Department of Chemistry as best undergraduate chemistry program in the nation by the Higher Education Research Institute, the addition of two endowed chairs in the Humanities and Social Sciences department, the growth of the endowment from $5 million to $50 million, and the graduation of the College's 2,000th graduate.

It was during Baker's tenure that several notable HMC pranks occurred, including the infamous Caltech Cannon heist in 1986, which Baker referred to in his book "Harvey Mudd College: The Third Decade Plus" as "the most audacious and clever prank known to me in my time in higher education." Baker and his wife, Vivian, both HMC Honorary Alumni, lived all 12 years on campus in the Garrett House, where they hosted many campus community events.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 2, 1923, Baker was the son of the late David Thomas and Edith (Horner) Baker. His father was an iron worker that fled Scotland in 1929 during the depression and immigrated to Canada, leaving the family behind until he could find work. His mother, Baker and a brother followed six months later and established a humble home from which the family prospered. Following his high school graduation, Baker attended McMaster University where he received a bachelor's degree in physics and chemistry. During this period, Baker met the love of his life, Vivian, and continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his Ph.D. in physics. He and Vivian were married in 1947, during his graduate education. They purchased a home in 1953 in Schenectady, NY, where Baker worked at Union College teaching physics. He worked summers in Schenectady as the director of the National Science Foundation Summer Institute, and spent a year abroad as a visiting lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, in St. Andrews, Scotland. He also spent a summer in New Delhi, India, as the program leader for the Agency for International Development at the University of New Delhi.


He continued his career at St. Lawrence University as vice president and dean of students from 1967 through 1976. His career culminated at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., where Baker held the position of College president. During these California years, Baker continued to sit on numerous advisory boards, including the advisory council for the Los Angeles Council of Engineers and Scientists, and the advisory committee of the Institute for Advancement of Engineering, which he chaired in 1982. He served as president of the Association of Independent Engineering Colleges from 1979 to 1982, and advised the Math Science Task Force for the California Roundtable on Educational Opportunity in 1984-1985. In his retirement, Baker sat on the board of directors of the Sound Shore Fund, and was an active member of what was then the PEW Foundation.


Baker was an avid sportsman who lettered in basketball, football and track in his high school and college years. He built a sailboat at age 16 to perfect his sailing skills and, later in life, developed a love of skiing (which he did well into his late 70s), skating, ice hockey and enjoying other outdoor activities. However, from the time Baker was a young boy, golf was his favorite pastime. His father's passion for the game was passed on to Baker and both of his brothers. Baker was a lifetime member of Crystal Downs Country Club (an Alistair MacKenzie Design, in Frankfort, Michigan), where he served as president of the golf course, overseeing a variety of projects, including the construction of a new clubhouse, maintenance barn and driving range.


He retired in 1988, to summer in North Carolina. He spent his winters golfing in North Carolina, and summers golfing in Michigan, while enjoying the company of his grandchildren and family.


Baker also had a lifelong association with the Congregational Summer Assembly in Frankfort, an area he was first introduced to by acquaintances from Union College. He had a cottage shell erected in 1960, which was completed by himself and his sons over the next 10 years. The summer cottage was the family's center and has been enjoyed by his family for the past 50 years.


Baker is survived by his wife of 64 years, Vivian Baker of Ithaca; a son, Rick (Kathy) Baker of Trumansburg; two grandsons, Jacob Baker of Ithaca and Nathan Baker of Trumansburg; and, a brother, Gordon (Lou) Baker of Hamilton, Ontario. In addition to his parents, Ken was preceded in death by a son, Paul Baker; a grandson, Ian Baker; and, a brother, Ronald Baker.

Contact: Judy Augsburger, senior director of communications