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Shelbyville names top citizen

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Sue Baker accepts Citizen of the Year award for late husband

By Scotty McDaniel

Sue Baker was at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in the Settle Gym Monday night to accept a plaque from the city of Shelbyville. It named her late husband, Don, as the Citizen of the Year.

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“Mr. Baker was chosen for the things he had done in the community,” Mayor Tom Hardesty said. “Don was just civic-minded person. He had a lot of wisdom and insight. He wasn’t afraid to tell you if he didn’t think something was going to work, because he wouldn’t let you go into something not knowing the positives and negatives of the project. He was just a great all around person.”

Don Baker, 75, passed away on July 18 of this year after a battle with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. But Sue has a good idea of how he would’ve responded to the honor.

“Don would be absolutely incredulous,” she said. “There’s no way he would’ve expected so many people to have shown their respect.”

That’s because Don Baker didn’t do the things he did to get awards.

“He did everything because it gave him pleasure,” she said. “He loved to meet people.”

And it was his desire to meet people and experience what the world offers that Sue said showed her great things she likely would’ve never experienced.

He was born in tiny Rochester, Ky., and moved to Louisville when he was 8. The small-town atmosphere of his youth stayed close to his heart, but it wasn’t until 1989 that he sold his Louisville business, Cement Board Fabricators, and told Sue he wanted to move to Shelbyville and live on a farm.

Don had no farm experience, but that’s what made the adventure exciting. Sue said if he had an interest in something. he’d learn as much as he could about it. He was up to the farm challenge.

In the years that followed, Don found plenty of other interests outside of farming. He not only worked on go-carts and dune buggies for himself, he even started building them for other people. He also spent 40 years with Carl Casper Custom Auto Show, for which he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

But whatever he did, his love for Shelbyville and its people was evident, she said.

“We’ve loved it up here. And we felt like, living in a small town, we wanted to be as active in everything as we could. If something was happening in downtown Shelbyville, we were there,” she said.

He was president of the Shelbyville Horse Show and former board member of the Shelby County Fair. He was also a founding member of the Louisville Automobile Museum and former board member of the Shelby County Theatre. He was involved with the Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, Shelby County Fair Grounds, Friends of the Library, Little Artists on Main, Clear Creek Friday Night Fish Fries -- “I mean, anything that went on, we thought that we owed it to the community to support them in anyway that we could,” she said.

If somebody needed help, they’d just ask Don, she said. “He could handle any situation,” she said. “Sometimes they called him the ‘go to man.’ Give him a problem ,and he’d consider that a challenge.”

He was an auctioneer at First Christian Church, a storyteller, speaker, and the one who greeted politicians and celebrities at events.

When he saw neighborhood children struggling to make a snowman, he’d be out the door to teach them how to roll snowballs.

When a bicycle chain came off one of their bikes, he’d be out the door to put it back on.

If a neighbor needed help starting their lawnmower, he’d be out the door to put his handyman skills to the test.

And he did it all because he wanted to.