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Community remembers beloved custodian, union leader and school namesake

Fri, 3 Nov, 2017

News item: Community remembers beloved custodian, union leader and school namesake

Retired custodian Velma Baker embraced her role as namesake at Velma E. Baker School with the same vitality and appreciation she brought to every aspect of her life. The charismatic mother of three was widely respected during her 25-year career as a custodian with Edmonton Public Schools and as the first female president of CUPE Local 474. “She was an inspiration,” said Baker’s granddaughter, Erin Baragar.

“She was witty and kind. You definitely knew where you stood with her, and it was usually in the good books. She had the biggest smile and, as soon as she’d enter a room, people would notice her and be drawn to her.”

Baker, 89, died in hospital October 23 after health complications related to diabetes. Although Baker faced serious health problems, particularly over the past five years, she always kept her positive outlook, Baragar said.


Baker was born and raised in Bredenbury, Saskatchewan, a community of 300 people. When she was 16 years old, she took the train to Regina where she lied about her age to get a job. She moved to Calgary and worked in the paint department of W.W. Arcade, where she met John Baker.

The couple later married and moved to Edmonton. While raising their three children, Baker traveled back and forth to Olds College, 200 kilometres south, to further her education. Baker was highly respected among the union members she worked so hard to represent, said CUPE Local 474 president John Vradenburgh. “She spent her life helping people,” Vradenburgh said.

Baker worked as a custodian in five schools and spent the last five years of her career serving as secretary treasurer and then president of CUPE Local 474. A year after Baker retired in 1991, the Edmonton Public School Board voted to name a school in her honour. Velma E. Baker School opened in southeast Edmonton in 1993. “She was extremely proud and honoured,” said Baragar. “She felt a huge responsibility to have a presence in the school and she was very happy to do that, even up until the last few months.”


Baker regularly attended events at the school in southeast Edmonton. She read to Kindergarteners during READ IN Week, visited with volunteers during the volunteer-appreciation luncheon, and delivered the farewell message at the annual year-end assembly. “I don’t think she ever missed a Christmas concert unless she was too sick, and then my mom and I would go in her place,” Baragar said. “She missed maybe one or two in all of her years.” Staff at Velma E. Baker School are planning a celebration to honour Baker’s memory. Baker is survived by her daughter, Joy, and sons Bruce and Jerry, as well as six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Velma Baker, left, with former principal Dorothy Cronk at a school event.


The public is invited to a celebration of Baker’s life, with lunch to follow. The family welcomes flowers and donations in Baker’s memory to the Alberta Diabetes Foundation.

Wednesday, November 22
12:30 p.m.
Mill Woods Pentecostal Assembly, 2225 66 St. NW