Heights bids farewell to a ‘Buddy’

By Lori Michael, Staff Writer
The Shopper News, March 31, 2004

Hasbrouck Heights – The borough bowed its head in remembrance of lifelong resident and former police chief and assistant fire chief. Howard "Buddy" Baker passed away on March 23 at the age of 74.

"It was an honor to work with him," said Mayor Ronald Jones, who served as a police officer while Baker was on the force. "He was a truly dedicated man and he gave his life to everything."

Baker served on the police force for 42 years and was chief from 1975 to 1993. He served as a firefighter for 28 years and was a former fire chief.

"I remember he would come in to work at the police station at 9 a.m. and at 3 a.m. he would be on the fire truck responding to a call," Police Chief Michael Colaneri said. "He was well-respected by other towns and was a very down-to-earth gentlemen."

According to Colaneri, Baker started the traffic bureau of the police department, but worked mostly as a detective in the records bureau.

At one point he served as both fire and police chiefs, but former mayor William Imken would not allow him to be in charge of both, Colaneri noted.

Baker lived across the street from the old municipal building with his wife, Bernice, who works in the borough clerk’s office, and their eight children, six daughters and two sons. Now, with his children all grown up and living in different areas, they each reminisce about their father.

"You always think your parents will be there forever," said the oldest daughter, Beverly Berardinelli of Aurora, Colo. "He was always there whenever we needed him. He would fix a flat tire if we needed him to. He was a good role model for the community by being assistant fire chief and police chief. He set the attitude for the rest of us, which was do the best of your ability and always follow through."

His daughter, Sharon Baker Witzel’s fondest memories are the family vacations to the Jersey shore and giving birth to her twins.

"When we went to the shore we would go crabbing out in the bay," she said. "I give a lot of credit to my mom and dad, it was tough raising all eight of us. When I gave birth to twins five years ago, I was grateful to have my parents with me and they got to see them right after they were born."

She described her father as a "strong silent type."

His older son, Howard Baker III, reflected also about the crabbing trip.

"Our grandfather, my dad’s father, would join us at the shore," said Baker. "We had so many crabs running through the fire department."

Baker said he was lucky to have both his mom and dad work in the borough.

"I am very fortunate to have had my mom and dad both work in town. After school I would stop by the municipal building to say ‘hi’ or if my dad wasn’t at his desk the police officer would call my dad in," Baker added.

The youngest son, Alan Baker, who currently serves as a police officer, stressed the importance of his dad being by his side on the night he was sworn in.

"He held the Bible while I was sworn in," Alan said. "My dad was a man of integrity and decency."

"His values are so hard to find nowadays," said daughter, Linda Condal. "His love was unconditional and even if you cracked the car it didn’t matter he would still love you. I wouldn’t have wished for anyone else to have been my father."

Baker’s daughter, Carolyn Dieter, said, "He was the best dad this daughter ever asked for."

His daughter, Nancy McCrystall, reflected about the time he taught all of them how to drive.

"There was a moment where I almost took a bridge out, so he named the bridge after me," said McCrystall. "Not only did he teach us how to drive but he also taught us how to change a tire and all the inns and outs of car’s maintenance. He got a chance to teach his oldest granddaughter how to drive and she recently got her license."

Diane Lohrmann, Baker’s youngest daughter, mentioned her fondest memory with her father.

"I was very happy and fortunate to have my dad walk me down the aisle at my wedding," said Lohrmann. "I was the one who got married later in life. Being the youngest, I felt he always looked out for me."

Lohrmann reflected upon her father coming to her aid one rainy night.

"My car broke down when I was on my way to White Plains, NY, and there’s my dad with a mechanic fixing my alternator," said Lohrmann.

Baker’s wife, Bernice, said, "It is hard to pick something out after 50 years. The happiest days were when we got married and whenever we had another baby, but there are a lot of great memories. He loved all his children and [18] grandchildren."

Baker was heavily involved in various organizations. He was a gold card member of the PBA Local 102, a member of Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department Honorary Membership, the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, the New Jersey State Association of Police Chiefs, the National Police Chiefs Association, the Bergen Police Pistol League, the New Jersey’s Exempt Fireman’s Association, the Hasbrouck Heights Exempt Fireman’s Association, the South Bergen Fire Chiefs Aid Association, the New Jersey State Fire Chief’s Association, Hasbrouck Heights Emergency Squad, Hasbrouck Heights Ambulance Squad, Hasbrouck Heights Planning Board, the Salvation Army, Hasbrouck Heights Band Parent’s Association, Boy Scout Troop 68 and Cub Scouts, Hasbrouck Heights Little League and the Bergen County PBA Mutual Aid Society, He also served as a sergeant in the New Jersey National Guard 50th Armored Division.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department, PBA Local #102, 120 Oldfield Ave. or to the First Reformed Church Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 66, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604.

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