As Vernon Baker’s family flew east for his memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this week, workers tackled a roster of repair projects at the late World War II hero’s Benewah Valley home, from reroofing to rebuilding the drainage system.
With hard labor, luck and more than $22,000 in donations from across the country, they hope to have all of the work finished by the time Baker’s widow, Heidy, her daughter Alexandra Pawlik and her grandson Vernon return on Sunday. That will include installing new skylights, replacing sheet-rock damaged by leaks, the new roof and a new woodshed to hold 10 cords of donated firewood.
“I can’t believe it,” Heidy Baker said Friday shortly after the memorial service. “I honestly thought everything would end with Vernon’s death. People have said, ‘No, you are family.’ ”
Baker died July 13 at age 90 of complications from cancer. Idaho National Guard 1st Sgt. Ray Katus initiated the fundraising effort less than a month later and approached John Dunlap, commander of American Legion Post 143 in Post Falls, for help. Some $13,000 came in from across the country, Dunlap said, and another $9,100 in donations from the Boise area was collected by the Idaho Guard. Katus was deployed to Iraq on Tuesday and was unfortunately unable to see the results of his efforts.
U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick donated frequent flier miles for the three Baker family plane tickets and promised to help get Alexandra Pawlik, who is from Germany, a permanent visa, Heidy Baker said. That’s a huge relief, she added.
The Spokane Knights of Columbus paid for the Baker family’s motel room. AmericanWest Bank donated spending money. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans donated $1,000 to the effort, said Frank Ratermann, a museum volunteer who also gave.
Any funds left over after the renovation will go toward building a memorial to Baker in St. Maries, Dunlap said.