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Obituary of City Historian Steve Baker

By Susan Keller

Steve Baker left this world as graciously and gently as he lived his life. He died April 4, 2022 due to complications from pneumonia, in Santa Barbara, CA, surrounded by his sister and her family and embraced by the love and concern of the entire community of Monrovia, CA. A fifth-generation Californian and Monrovian, Steve was born at Alta Bates Hospital in Richmond, CA, the first child of Robert Munson Baker and Pasadena-born Helen Lisk Keller. After his father returned from the Navy in 1945 and Steve's sister was born, the family moved to Monrovia, next door to his grandmother. He resided in Monrovia for 67 of the next 76 years, and his home for the past 55 years was in the very house—dating from 1887—that his great-great grandfather built and that his grandmother came to as a young child; Steve slept in the bedroom in which his father was born.

Steve attended Monrovia schools, including Monrovia-Duarte High School, ultimately receiving his diploma from Palo Verde High School in Blythe, CA where his father was president of the community college. Steve explored a wide variety of institutions of higher learning in both So. and No. California. Concurrently working as a branch manager for Security Pacific National Bank, he finally received his BA from USC shortly after his 40th birthday.

Steve displayed musical talent from an early age, studying piano and then organ; he disassembled and then restored an antique pump organ while still in high school. He possessed vocal gifts as well and sang in select choral ensembles his entire life. A tenor with a ringing tone, he was a soloist at churches and synagogues in the LA area, toured Europe with the Southern California Choral Society, and most recently was a long-time member of Jouyssance, an early music group on whose Board he served as treasurer.

Steve’s interest in all things historical was also apparent from a young age; he collected antiques in his early teens and found the varied architectural styles in his area quite fascinating. This, along with living in one of the earliest homes built in Monrovia, undoubtedly became the genesis of his life-long passion for authentic architecture, Victorian furniture and collectibles, California history, and family genealogy. In 1991, the City of Monrovia appointed him City Historian, a position he held until his death. He wrote countless articles on Monrovia and Duarte history and the provenance of their homes and buildings, did extensive genealogical and background research for whomever asked for his help, and presented numerous historical programs to service organizations and schools, adding extra flair by dressing the part in a vintage suit and top hat. In addition to his honorary position, Steve was elected Monrovia City Treasurer in 2005 and was running unopposed on the ballot for the upcoming June election.  

Volunteering as a board member and officer for multiple organizations was a true calling for Steve; they greatly benefited from his expertise, his commitment, and his inability to say “no” to any task or assignment, be it challenging or mundane. At the time of his passing, he served an astonishing number of entities, among them: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (treasurer); Rotary Club (past president and executive secretary); Citrus College Foundation (past president); Monrovia Historic Preservation Group (historian); Monrovia Historical Museum (past president); Monrovia Historical Society (president); Duarte Historical Society and Museum (treasurer); Friends of the Monrovia Public Library (treasurer); Friends of the Duarte Library (treasurer); Monrovia Coordinating Council (treasurer); Monrovia Historical Museum (past president); Santa Anita YMCA (past chair). He was board president for Santa Barbara Revels, a performing arts group that his sister founded, and he appeared in its annual productions for a dozen years. In addition to being named Grand Marshall of the Monrovia Days Parade, he received numerous awards and honors from his community: Iris Award (Citizen of the Year) from the Monrovia Chamber of Commerce; Award of Merit from the Conference of California Historical Societies; Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award from the Boy Scouts of America Greater Los Angeles Area Council. The list goes on.

Steve was extraordinarily patient, kind, generous, and thoughtful. A gentle man in every sense of the word. He was an exceptional listener, a wonderful chronicler with an encyclopedic knowledge of dates, times, and places, and an unassuming presence that nevertheless made an indelible imprint on his wider community. The void left by his passing cannot be filled and certainly not by only one person. He is irreplaceable, both civically and within his family circle. His sister Susan Keller, her husband, Myron Shapero, and their son, Matthew Shapero, deeply mourn his untimely loss, along with all the members of their extended family. He was pre-deceased by his mother, father, and sister, Sherry Lynn (1957-1960).

There will be a memorial service and a celebration of Steve’s life at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16th at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 122 South California Avenue, in Monrovia.

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