Breckenridge community mourns passing of Gene Baker
April 10, 2009
BRECKENRIDGE ” A Breckenridge architect whose contributions range from structures on Main Street to Breckenridge Ski Resort died unexpectedly Thursday night.
Eugene “Gene” Baker, 59, was a well-known and appreciated member of the community for about 34 years.
“Everybody’s going to miss him,” said Marc Hogan, a business partner who worked with Baker since 1979.
Having grown up in Montana, Baker founded BHH Partners (formerly Baker, Hogan and Houx Architecture and Planning) in 1976.
“I think he came into town with five bucks,” Hogan said.
Baker got a loan from his parents and ran the firm on his own until Hogan came on board. They operated out of a building on the northwest corner of Main Street and Ski Hill Road, which was shared with a local theater.
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“We’d move the drafting desks out every Friday afternoon and they’d have productions on weekends,” Hogan said.
The business moved in 1982 to the Big Sky Building ” named for Baker’s home state” on East Adams. It has since expanded to sites in Silverthorne and Minnesota.
Baker had returned Wednesday from a vacation with his wife, Missy. They went to Mexico ” the country where they met 34 years ago.
“It was love at first sight, for me. Three weeks later we knew we were getting married, and we’ve been together ever since,” Missy said. “He was the greatest person in the whole wide world, never had a mean thing to say about anybody.”
They have three children: Emily, 23; John, 21 and Kimberly, 19.
Carrie Balma, a family friend of 15 years and owner of Goods in Breckenridge, said Gene’s kids were the greatest joy in his life.
“He was one fantastic father, and he has left them a tremendous legacy of memories and how-to directions in life,” she said. “He was a dad in a true sense of the word.”
BHH Partners marketing manager Karen Martiny said Gene came to work Thursday, seemed relaxed and said he felt great.
“This is a shock and definitely not something we were expecting,” she said.
After exercising at the Breckenridge Recreation Center that evening, he purchased some groceries to cook dinner for Emily, Martiny said. He collapsed while carrying them into the house.
“It was quick ” which was a blessing for him, but not for everyone else,” she said.
Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson said in a press release that Baker had a “significant heart history” and that the scene where he was found “was consistent with a natural event.”
Breckenridge councilman and Downstairs at Eric’s owner Eric Mamula said it was a shock to hear of Baker’s death.
“I’m still sort of numb about the whole thing,” he said Friday.
Mamula had known him more than 20 years, after Gene’s firm designed his restaurant.
They worked together on such boards as the Breckenridge Economic Development Advisory Committee and the recently formed Neighborhood Preservation Task Force.
“As usual, Gene’s comments are really getting worked into what we’re going to end up with as a final analysis,” Mamula said of Gene’s contributions to the task force.
He said Baker was “very measured” and “good at what he did.”
“He never would raise his voice or tell you, ‘You’re an idiot.’ Some of us have a tendency to get a little hot under the collar. He never did. So I will miss him,” Mamula said.
Baker was the lead architect on the $15 million Iowa Hill Waste Water Reclamation Facility for Breckenridge Sanitation District.
District manager Andy Carlberg said he’s worked with Baker for about 15 years and that he was a personal friend, as well.
“He’s always the go-to guy to get the job done,” he said. “He is going to be missed.”
Baker not only admired as a father, architect and community leader, he was also known for his sense of humor and passion for the outdoors.
Hogan recalls Baker playing rugby “back in the day,” when he’d come into the office with two black eyes from butting heads on the field.
“He wasn’t the best rugby player,” Hogan said, fondly. “He was going around with two black eyes, which didn’t look too good for the clients.”
Baker once put a 4-inch nail on the deck outside the architecture office as part of a special policy.
“Any time it snowed 4 inches, you didn’t have to come in ’til noon,” Hogan said. “So that was the ski policy; a few of the guys would help Mother Nature every once in a while. We had it there for a number of years.”
A memorial service ” including a slideshow ” for Baker is planned for Wednesday at noon in the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center.
Balma said a memorial fund has been established in Gene Baker’s name at First Bank in Breckenridge. Contributions are to go toward a Summit High School graduate entering the architecture program at the University of Colorado.
The recipient will need to have a heart for Buffs football.
“There’s nothing Gene loved better than CU football games,” Balma said.
Martiny said Gene’s presence at the office will be missed.
“He just cared about everyone,” she said. “(To) exchange a joke and share a laugh with him ” we’re really going to miss that.”
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.