Monday, October 26, 1936 - Friday, January 29, 2021
Ralph Kendrick Baker – beloved doctor, husband, father, and grandfather – died on Friday, January 29, 2021, at Mercy Hospital in Oshkosh, WI, after a short spell of pneumonia. Although Ralph’s brilliant mind was compromised by dementia, his instincts remained keen. For at least half his life, he was known to announce in his beautifully booming voice, “It’s all over,” as he powered off screens and turned off lights at bedtime. On Friday, when his time came to pass, Ralph fell into a deep sleep and moved calmly and decisively to greater heights.
Ralph was born October 26, 1936, in Salt Lake City, UT, to Frank K. Baker and Alta Van Brunt Baker. A Presbyterian among Mormons, Ralph spoke fondly of his formative years, where he learned the value of mutual respect from his best friends who lived in fundamentally different households than his own. When Ralph was 12 years old, he moved with his parents and younger brother, Bruce, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Ralph went on to graduate from Wauwatosa East High School in 1955 and to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studied chemistry.
As an undergraduate student, in 1958, Ralph and a faculty mentor conducted cutting-edge research on Fluorouracil, one of the first cancer drugs. During the summers, Ralph worked at one of Milwaukee’s psychiatric hospitals as an aide, before the development and widespread use of psychiatric medication, which fostered his deep interest in brain chemistry and mental wellness.
From 1959 to 1966, Ralph earned his M.D. from the UW Medical School. He later reminisced about this period in his life, eagerly sharing stories about living with other aspiring doctors in a beautiful home near Lake Wingra, studying human anatomy, and re-locating for a year to Orange County, California for his residency, where he experienced the thrill of delivering babies. He would later hold all 12 of his newborn grandchildren with well-practiced hands.
In 1966, Ralph was certified by the Wisconsin Medical Board and therein began his prestigious career in psychiatry. From 1966 to 2000, Ralph, known to most in town as Dr. Baker with his dazzling mind, worked at Winnebago Mental Health Institute and ultimately became Medical Director. In addition to “running the place,” as he summed it up in the end of life, Dr. Baker was a teacher too, modeling best practices for young psychologists, social workers, and resident psychiatrists. Many therapists in and around Oshkosh today learned their craft from him. They remember Dr. Baker stretching out his long legs, kicking socked feet up on his desk, and drinking a Diet Pepsi while doctoring in his calm, languid voice. His primary lesson to practitioners was listening closely and attentively – with their hearts.
Dr. Baker was the backbone of Winnebago Mental Health Institute, but he was also here, there, and everywhere else. He ran Mental Health Consultants, his own private practice; he served as Green Lake County Medical Director; and he consulted with judges and attorneys as a forensic psychiatrist in Dodge, Brown, Green Lake, and Winnebago Counties. He was an expert witness in many high-profile criminal cases throughout Wisconsin, often appearing on the news – much to his children’s delight. Because he evaluated many dangerous criminals, people often asked, “Aren’t you afraid?” He seemed genuinely surprised to be asked. Intellectual curiosity and compassion, not fear, guided him through life.
Dr. Ralph K. Baker found belonging in many places. He was a member of the American Psychiatric Association; the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law; and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For most of his adult life, Ralph was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Oshkosh, participating in and teaching Adult Study. He was equal parts spiritualist and scientist. He’d tuck a notecard quoting A Course in Miracles into his breast pocket on Sundays and then recite molecular chains in prescription meds on Mondays.
Ralph was also silly, uninhibited, and adventurous. He’d tell wildly imaginative bedtime stories to his children; he’d dress in costume to thrill his grandchildren; and he’d take any adventure his wife, Nancy, proposed. In their 27 years of marriage, they travelled to the Grand Teton Mounts; Barcelona; Southern France; Hawaii; Alaska; New York City; Cape Cod; Oregon; Lee’s Summit, Missouri; Jamaica; and their favorite place of all – “the little house” in Ripon, where Ralph spent his final happy hours, sipping whiskey on the rocks.
Ralph was preceded in death by his parents, Frank K. and Alta V. Baker. He is survived by his wife and equal match Nancy Baker, whom he “loved dearly”; his five children: Eric W. (Amy) Baker of Cortlandt Manor, NY and their children, Phoebe and Claire Baker; Thomas K. Baker of Sun Prairie, WI and his children, Denver and Camille Baker; Christopher K. (Kelly) Baker of Grants Pass, OR, and his children, Lena, Raina, and Sebastian Baker; Josh C. Warren of Appleton, WI; and Laura Jean Baker (Ryan) Ulrich of Oshkosh, WI, and their children, Irelyn “Irie” Ulrich, Leo “Little Ralph” Ulrich, Fern Ulrich, Francis “Frank” Ulrich, and Gustav “Gus” Ulrich. He is also survived by his brother Bruce (Charlotte) Baker of Omaha, NE and his nieces, Kelly and Barb Baker; Sue and Rich Kohl of Ripon, WI, their children, Angela (Brian) Pitman, Christopher (Tracy) Kohl, and their grandson, Miles; and Ralph and Donna Sherwood of Ripon, WI.
Visitation for Ralph will be held on Thursday, February 4, 2021, from 9 - 11:00 am at Butzin-Marchant Funeral Home, 515 Mayparty Dr., Ripon, WI 54971.
Memorial Service for Ralph will be held on Thursday, February 4, 2021, at 11:00 am at Butzin-Marchant Funeral Home, with Reverend Dr. Kevin P. Mundell officiating. For the safety of the family, please practice social distance and mask requirements while attending Ralph's visitation and service. Inurnment will take place at a later date at Hillside Cemetery in Ripon. Memorial donations can be made in Dr. Ralph K. Baker’s name to the Treffert Center in Fond du Lac, WI, or to Winnebago Mental Health Center.
MEMORIAL SERVICE AT BUTZIN-MARCHANT FUNERAL HOME
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