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MOUNT VICTORY — Retirement is something life insurance agent and missionary Dana Baker said he hopes never to see.
Baker, who recently turned 80, has spent the last 52 years of his life working as a life insurance agent and financial planner, accumulating more than 3,500 clients. Some of his current clients are ones he has retained since the beginning. But no matter who they are, Baker said he loves the interaction he gets to have with them.
“I’ve made it a labor of love, if you want to put it that way,” Baker said. “Working with the people is what I love most about this job, no doubt about it.”
It’s that love of working with people that keeps him coming back and working each day. As long as he’s doing what he loves, he said, he won’t retire.
“I’ll be working up to three days before my funeral,” Baker said. “I have no desire to retire. I’m doing what I want to do, and isn’t that what retirement is?”
But his work as a life insurance agent isn’t the only thing he said he hopes never to retire from.
Baker recently returned from his seventh missionary trip to Africa. The trips are something he began doing since he received a call from God in 1999 during an Emmaus Walk in Findlay.
“During the prayer meeting, I got a call from God to go some place in the world; I didn’t know where,” he said. “… A few weeks later, Ed Elliott asked me if I wanted to go to Africa, and I said yeah, I’ll go; I didn’t ask him when, what it cost or anything. So Ed, Mike Shuster, Jim McKinney and I went to Mali.”
During past trips, Baker has helped to fund and build a house, a school and would like to go back soon to help a girl build a beauty shop in Benin.
“She was in the Ivory Coast when they raided her beauty shop, destroyed all her stuff and burned her shop. She doesn’t have anything now, so I’ve been supporting her for about four years. I would like to go see what her situation is so we can get her a beauty shop,” he said.
The African country of Burkina Faso was the destination for one of his missionary trips, Baker said, visiting a woman whose house he was helping to fund and build.
“I’ve been sending her money to do it for four years and we’re just finishing up, so I wanted to go and see the house,” he said. “…We were up in Burkina Faso for three days and we rode in the car 30 hours to get there. We stayed in a hotel there while I went out and did my work. We did two windows, two doors and a gate for her compound.”
According to Baker, the building of a vocational school in Ghana is also in the works, one which will offer many different areas of study for the students.
“They’ll teach Kente weaving, bead-making, pottery-making and so on. I want a good solid history of Ghana to be taught there, too, along with the regular subjects they teach in school,” he said.
Baker has made an impression on the communities he’s visited, especially through the eyes of one Ghanaian boy who wanted to be more like the missionary who paid for his education for four years.
“He emailed me one day and said he wanted to change his name to mine,” Baker said. “He said the only thing was he didn’t have any money to go to the courthouse to do that. He needed $80, so I sent him $80 and he changed his name, which is now Daniel Lamar Baker; mine is Dana Lamar Baker.”
Baker said it gives him a fantastic feeling knowing he’s helping the people of Africa. In fact, his reason for loving his work as a life insurance agent and a missionary are one in the same: helping and working with people.
“Do I enjoy it? Yes, I love it, and I love the people of Africa; they’re wonderful people and have a lot of wishes just like we do,” he said. “They want food, they want a house over their head and they want their family to grow up and do well. They want the same things we have, but they don’t have the same opportunities we have.”
Helping others is something Baker thinks everyone should try to do to help change the world for the better.
“We’re not going to change the world with government; we’re going to change the people one-on-one,” he said. “The people over there in Africa, I know, have a high esteem of me, so that means they have a high esteem of Americans, and that’s what we’ve got to do.
“If we don’t do this, we’re going to have conflict. There are people in the world who think we’re nothing because they think all we care about are cars, houses and entertainment, and that’s not true; there’s a lot of good people in this world.”
In fact, Baker said, there are more people helping in Africa than one would imagine, helping any way they can.
“When I was in Burkina Faso, I met a young couple who were in the Peace Corps, working with people every day,” he said. “They’re changing the attitude of the American people. That’s what it’s all about right there.”
According to Baker, some in the Mount Victory area who know of his missionary travels to Africa donate money for him to use on his trips.
“I’m very grateful for the people who have helped me and given me money to use over there,” Baker said. “All the money they’ve given me, I’ve spent every cent of it to help in Africa.”
He’ll continue to help by making trips as long as he is able to, he said. And even when the time comes when he can’t, he’ll still continue to help.
“When I get to that point, I’ll start bringing them over here,” Baker said.
In the meantime, he plans to continue his missionary work and enjoy life without retirement.
“I’ve got a wonderful family, a wonderful wife (Norma) and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “…I’ve had wonderful girls who have worked for me and I’ve been very fortunate.
“Life’s good, except for the dang Internal Revenue Service; that’s the only drawback,” Baker said with a laugh.
By TY THAXTON
Times staff writer