At age 86, Hollis Baker comes of age
By Dana Delgado
Homer Baker was quite the role model for his naïve but rather inquisitive and attentive son, Hollis, a typical country boy reared in the heart of Burnet County.
The elder Baker, in a what-in-the-world was he thinking move, pinned his hopes on a small grocery store that he dared to open as the Great Depression gripped the country. The year was 1932 and that little store with near-barren shelves sat nestled on a foothill just east from the Burnet County Courthouse Square on State Highway 29.
“There was only $5 worth of groceries in the whole store, but people came from all parts to talk to my father,” recalls Hollis Baker, now 86 and a resident of Liberty Hill. “Dad was quite a talker and thinker, but most of all, a great listener.”
As good a communicator as his father was, Hollis was equally attentive in a kid kind of way, indifferent yet absorbing everything. Although not taking notes, he would ultimately take it to heart. Particularly noteworthy was the impact his father had on those whom would come to Homer’s Place for their groceries or conversation.
“Dad wasn’t just a good talker, he knew how to reach people,” Baker said.
Aside from the extraordinary tutelage he was receiving from his father, Baker’s early life in small town Burnet was rather ordinary. There would be some heart-wrenching moments, however, especially at school.
“I flunked more English classes than I passed,” said the would-be author, who had an early interest in architecture and design.
A call to arms by Uncle Sam in 1951 during the Korean Conflict thrust the young country boy into the big world and brought him face to face with mortality; although he would never see combat, much less leave the continental United States. Instead, Baker was hastened to Fort Bliss in El Paso where he joined a rather miniscule but critical Army unit.
The unit, with only nine personnel, was tasked with operating remote control drones as training for military firing purposes. Private Baker worked the radio and transmitter for the unit.
Uncertain about the future after reporting to Fort Bliss, Baker hurried home at the earliest opportunity.
“I hitchhiked home and got married,” Baker said. “Then I went right back to work.”
The private and his new bride, Alice, took residence in a small apartment on the northeastern outskirts of El Paso, adjacent to the Army post.
“There was no hot water but we only paid $12.50 in rent,” said Baker.
After completing his military obligation, Baker returned to central Texas with wife in tow. As with every soldier returning to civilian live, Baker had to find a way to support himself and his family. Although he had gained valuable experience in electronics while in the military, it didn’t interest him like architecture and design did. He had studied the subjects at Texas A & M and Texas Western College in El Paso.
So the enterprising Burnet native found himself working in commercial signs, a venture that he would later turn into a successful business — Hollis Baker Sign Company. The company is still operating today under the management of one of his sons.
“It doesn’t take a lot a talent,” Baker said. “But it’s pure hard work! That’s the way we made a living with a brush and a can of paint.”
Along the way, he got himself into Toastmasters and fell in love with the art of speaking to an audience. In many ways, it was like stepping out of his father’s shadow and into his own.
Not surprising, Baker is revered by audiences of all ages for his folksy manner. The adept speaker said the very first speech he made was selling his new bride, Alice, to move to El Paso.
Now mostly retired, Baker has given art and music a try before finding a comfortable niche nine years ago as a columnist.
This past November, the country boy from Burnet County became an author. His book, Shin Oak Ridge and Other Stories, is a collection of some his favorite newspaper columns, which are “observations of the local scene once upon a time and include colorful people.”
At age 86, Baker, with all his country charm, has come of age as an intriguing author and acutely entertaining columnist.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life,” the spry new author brimming with confidence said. “A second book is in the works and I look forward to learning new things. I just wish I had started writing much earlier in life. I read a lot, am a procrastinator, but really desire for a better life. I’ve led a real charmed life, rich in life, but less in money but I really want to leave a high water mark for others to follow. Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate with my health.”
From his father’s country store in Burnet, Baker, through his striking charm and unique style, speaks to readers now and for the ages. For this master story teller, the self-published collection of stories is only the beginning.
Shin Oak Ridge and Other Stories by Hollis Baker is available at Winkley’s General Store in Liberty Hill and online at Amazon.com.