Bobbi and Stephen Polk ’78 are giving a leadership gift to the Whisler Center for Student Wellness.
Gary Baker, professor of German, and wife Suzanne Baker, instructor and field experience coordinator in educational studies, have enjoyed long careers at Denison. Their son, Kyle Baker, is a 2013 graduate. “We’ve been treated very well here,” says Gary.
That’s why the Bakers are determined to pay forward their good experience, creating the Gary Lee Baker and Suzanne Simons Baker Family Endowed Scholarship Fund for Studies in German and Education. The fund will help Denison students with financial need offset the costs of their educations — a longtime dream of Gary’s come true. “It was a life goal. I had envisioned doing it much later in life, but with the campaign going on, I thought, ‘Maybe we should do this now,’” says Gary.
“We’ll be able to see the benefit of the fund in our lifetimes, maybe meet some of the students who receive scholarships,” adds Suzanne. “And it’s a way to honor our departments — the disciplines we’ve studied and taught.”
Another inspiration for the fund? Gary’s own student debt from his undergraduate studies that took more than a decade to pay off. “Denison provides an excellent education that everyone should have a right to,” says Gary, who was the first in his family to attend college. “I’d love it if students could graduate without debt.”
Both Gary and Suzanne have witnessed students struggling financially — from difficulties paying tuition to not having money for books or to travel home for breaks. “Denison is very economically diverse, and many people don’t realize that,” says Suzanne, who often discusses educational equity with her Denison colleagues and in her classes. “There’s an impression that many Denison students can pay their way, but we have lots of kids who can’t, and this fund will help keep them in school.”
The Bakers’ gift aligns with the couple’s values. “That’s how we are in a lot of ways,” says Suzanne. “We live our lives trying to share what we have with other people.”
Their gift also aligns with Denison’s tight-knit sense of community. “Denison is truly about the relationships we create and foster,” says Gary. “I always tell my students, ‘I’m your advisor but not just for four years; I’ll probably be your advisor for life.’ Once they leave, it’s always the case that you’re writing a letter of recommendation for graduate school or a new job, or being a reference for them. The relationship doesn’t stop.”
And just as the relationships endure, the Bakers’ fund will, too, benefiting Denison students in perpetuity. The Bakers’ children could add to it in the future, should they wish to continue their parents’ legacy of generosity. “We like that this is something with continuity to it,” says Gary. “Long after we’re gone, the fund will still be generating income for students who have financial need. And Denison is a good money manager, so the fund should be able to grow.”