The ultimate administrator
Merle Baker is pictured here at his desk while working as a school administrator for Elmhurst Elementary School District 46 before he rose to the rank of Superintendent of School District 205. Baker passed away last week at the age of 93.

By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent

If you’ve ever been to the auditorium at York High School, you may have noticed a bronze plaque on the wall dedicated to long-time District 205 teacher and administrator Merle Baker. Baker Auditorium is his namesake and many students who passed through the halls in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s will likely remember him as the school superintendent.

Merle Baker passed away last week at the age of 93.

Merle Baker was born in Chicago in 1927. After high school he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. During his service, he was part of the Operation Crossroads Project in the South Pacific, where he photographed the testing of the Atomic Bomb.

After his tour of duty, Merle came back and decided to further his education at Elmhurst College, where he chose teaching as a career. One of his professors was Dr. Rudolph Schade, for whom the University’s annual Schade lecture is named, and they remained friends for many years.

Career and life decisions

It was also at Elmhurst College that Merle met Leatrice Lemont whom he married shortly after graduation. Their first apartment was above the Cottage Hill Restaurant in Elmhurst, until they moved into a small apartment on Chandler. At this time, Merle was teaching in the Bensenville School District. Shortly after that, Merle began building a home on the vacant lot next to his parents’ home on Walnut Street. It was at this time, he began teaching in Elmhurst.

His tenure with Elmhurst schools

Merle joined the staff of Elmhurst Elementary School District 46 in 1952 as an intermediate grade teacher at Jackson School. Because the schools were overcrowded, sixth graders were bussed to Elmhurst Junior High for classes.

While teaching at Jackson, Merle and Lee welcomed their daughter Nancy, who went on to teach high school speech and drama. Two years later Barbara joined the family. She grew up to be director of job training at McHenry College.

In 1955, Merle became a social studies teacher at Elmhurst Junior High. In 1957, two memorable events occurred in the Baker family – their son Thomas was born and Merle received a Master of Science in Education Administration from Northern Illinois University.

When Madison School opened in 1959, Merle was appointed principal and was well-liked among the staff and teachers. During this period, Merle was the advisory consultant to the teacher training program at Elmhurst College.

In 1964, their daughter Ellen was born to the family. In 1965, Merle was appointed Director of Curriculum for District 46. Chris became a member of the Baker family in 1968 when Merle became an assistant professor of education at the National College of Education in Evanston. Marquette University awarded Merle a Doctorate of Education in 1970.

The following year, he was appointed to assistant superintendent of District 46, then later, deputy superintendent. In November of 1974, when School District 205 was formed, he served as deputy superintendent to then-Superintendent Dr. Trevarthen. When Dr. Trevarthen retired, Merle succeeded him as superintendent of District 205 in January 1979. He remained in that position until he retired himself in 1983.

In addition to their family of five children — Nancy Ferguson, Barbara Ludwig, Tom Baker, Ellen Bell and Chris Baker – they also have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Retirement begins

When they retired, Merle and Lee decided to move to California after enduring many Chicago winters. Once there, they worked together at their Baskin Robbins ice cream franchise in San Diego, which was very popular with the grandchildren. The Baker family spent many summers traveling across the U.S. on extended camping trips, stopping to read every historical marker they passed along the way.

Merle has always been interested in sports, music and photography. His community activities have included serving as President of his Rotary Club, and as Chairman for the Chicago Suburban Crusade of Mercy for three campaigns. He maintained his love for teaching by tutoring and mentoring high school students in history and science. After moving to California, he became active with Rotary Club, Meals On Wheels, and as a volunteer at Pomorado Hospital in San Diego.

After Merle’s loving partner of nearly 60 years, Leatrice, passed away in December of 2008, he moved to Regents Point in Irvine, Calif.


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