Former South High School AD Baker remembered for ability to connect with athletes, students, colleagues

Celina native who spent 30 years in the Springfield district died June 21

Mark Stoll remembers C. Duane Baker as a down-home guy who was a pied-piper for other area athletic directors. Everyone was drawn to him.

Most importantly, Baker got along with students for the 14 years he spent as the athletic director at South High School.

“Bake was a guy who could connect with the kids in the 70s and all the way through,” said Stoll, the former North High School athletic director and baseball coach, “and we talked about this at his funeral. There wasn’t a whole lot of communication going on between teenagers and adults at that time. Bake had that ability to bridge the gap.”

Baker, 84, died on June 21 at his home in Springfield. His health declined over the last year and especially in the last six months, his daughter Suzanne (Baker) Antonaros said, and he passed away in his sleep.

Antonaros, who followed her dad into teaching and coaching, paid tribute to her dad on Facebook.

“My first science teacher,” she wrote. “Nightly walks in the yard looking at bugs and plants and all things nature. My first coach. Tossing a softball, throwing a frisbee, or whacking a volleyball against the garage roof. My counselor and advisor. Always listening and talking, because he gave so lovingly the value of time. My protector, yet always laughing. Laughing big. My hero.”

Baker served as South’s athletic director from 1981-95. His career overlapped for one year with Stoll, who was North’s AD from 1994 until the merger of North and South in 2008.

“I was fortunate to have him as a coach, a teacher and then as a colleague when I became AD at North,” said Stoll, a 1973 South graduate.

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A 1954 graduate of Celina High School, Baker was inducted into his alma mater’s athletic hall of fame in 1995. He attended Ohio University and played baseball for the Bobcats. He still holds the school’s single-season ERA record of 0.52 set in 1958.

After college, Baker served as a Quartermaster in the United States Navy. He began his teaching career at Wapakoneta and then moved to South, where he taught science and was an assistant coach in baseball and basketball.

Baker’s obituary paid tribute to his natural leadership abilities and his love of the community.

“He had a passion for kids and that love shines through the legacy that he has in the community,” read the obituary. “The lasting mark he made carries on through the individuals he touched: his students; his athletes; and their families and his coaches. He had the ability to connect even with strangers. He was great at defusing and encouraging. This characteristic drew many to respect and adore him. Once your life was touched by Bake, you knew he would always have your back and that you could always call on him for strong advice or help. His life will be carried on in the hearts and service of those he touched.”

One of the highlights of Baker’s time at South came during the 1983-84 basketball season when the South boys finished 23-1.

”That group, they really were well-knitted together,” Baker said in 2019 when the coach of that team, Wayne Wiseman, died at 87. “They went onto the court to play and to win. It wasn’t, ‘Let’s just talk about it.’ It was, ‘Let’s do it.’ Those kids got along well together, too. Fans loved those kids. We had sellouts where we had to close the doors three or four times during that year.”

Antonaros has many memories of her dad at work at South.

“I can remember from a very early age holding his hand and walking through the hallways at South,” she said. “His character resonated. I remember being so proud of him, even as a little child. He took me everywhere. He had an impact on so many people, and I got the best of him. I got to be his daughter and watch him be a grandpa.”

Baker retired from South after 30 years in the Springfield City School District but stayed involved in the community. In 2007, he served on a committee that provided recommendations on how the South and North athletic programs would be combined the following year. In 2008, Baker served on a committee that helped the News-Sun pick the top-10 athletes in South’s history.

Baker is survived by his wife of 55 years, Patricia (Hutchens) Baker; his daughter Suzanne; his son-in-law, Richard Antonaros; and his granddaughters, Isabella, Avamarie and Vivianna Antonaros.

Baker was laid to rest at Fernclifff Cemetery on Saturday. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations may be made to the C. Duane Baker Scholarship Fund at Huntington Bank. The Baker Scholarship will honor a Springfield High School student who plans to earn a degree in education.

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