Joe Baker joins Cathlamet town council

 

March 23, 2023

Diana Zimmerman

Joe Baker, a former theatre manager, recently joined the Cathlamet Town Council.

For more than 40 years, Joe Baker worked as the theater manager for Green River College and director of a popular Heavier Than Air Family Theatre Company sponsored by the college.

He loved his nightly walk through a little forested area from the college to his back yard, but as the years went by, the campus slowly creeped closer until his woodland view became three-story student housing.

When Baker retired, he and his wife contemplated a move to a little town in eastern Washington, but when he witnessed civic dysfunction he realized he wanted no part of, and plans changed.

"Nobody was working together," Baker said. "You could walk through town and see bricks falling off of buildings. They didn't even bother to pick them up. It was sad."

He believes Cathlamet is the exact opposite of that.

When someone first mentioned Cathlamet, he was hesitant, but as he drove along the Columbia River, he realized he had started to relax. The couple initially bought some property on the island but eventually settled in Cathlamet.

He met Laurel Waller at the Hotel Cathlamet, and as Baker has gotten to know her, he's really come to appreciate her.

"She's a sweet lady who gives a darn about this town," Baker said. "That's what I found out about this whole town. People really care about this town."

He's since joined the Pioneer Community Association and hopes to use his expertise to do a production of A Christmas Carol as a radio show on the stage in the Pioneer Church.

"All you need is microphones, a sound guy, and a piano player," Baker said. "Do you think there are 12 people in town who can act?"

Baker got his start in the theater in a high school debate class. You'll have to be in the play if you want to pass, his teacher told him. Baker was initially reluctant, but life is full of surprises.

"I fell in love with it," he said. "I got a scholarship to the local community college in Auburn when I graduated from high school to do plays there."

He got involved in summer stock and community theater, and then got a part time job managing the theater at Everett Community College, he said. Later, his alma mater called and asked him if he would consider starting a children's theater program.

So he returned to Auburn and to Green River Community College and spent the rest of his career there.

The program flourished. They performed lots of musicals, including but not limited to Seussical, Tom Sawyer, Honk, the Wizard of Oz, the Music Man, Godspell. Baker has done a production of Annie more than 150 times.

Baker decided to apply for the position on the town council because, he says, he cares.

"I've looked at the books, there is money sitting there," Baker said. "It doesn't do the town any good to be sitting on a huge chunk of money and not be improving what it can improve. This town has so much potential. Money doesn't do you a darn bit of good unless you sprinkle it around a little."

"I think that park that the town is working on is a great idea," he added. "When I heard them talking about putting an amphitheater in there, I really wanted to get involved in the development of that. I've built two or three or been involved in the design committee of two or three, so I'm interested in that."

He's also interested in the speed limit on Columbia Street, and in the town in general.

"Old curmudgeonly stuff, that's what I want to do," he said with a laugh.

"This whole community is on the cusp, without any encouragement, of being an art community," Baker said. "You've got one of the nicest little downtown art galleries I've ever seen in a little town. It's practically an art museum in the lobby in the upstairs of that hotel."

 

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