Customers at Marv’s True Value in Princeton might not think of employee Clarence Baker, 81, as someone who would skydive.
Baker has been characterized, by more than one person, as a steady and knowledgeable hardware man, who doesn’t express a lot of emotion. Some might not think Baker would free fall 120 miles per hour toward earth before letting a parachute slow the descent.
But that’s what Clarence Baker did on a sunny late afternoon this past Oct. 3, over Milaca.
Some of Baker’s fellow employees had heard him talk in the past couple years about the skydiving idea, but didn’t learn that he would do such a thing, until after it happened.
Baker took the jump through Skydive Minnesota, based at the Milaca airport, with Skydive co-owner Nick Poshek strapped to his back as part of what is called a tandem skydive.
Baker paid $190 for the jump, a $10 reduction from the usual $200, after he asked if there was a senior discount.
Baker said last week he had been thinking of skydiving since 60 years ago, when he was living in East Bethel. But with having a family – wife Terri and four little kids – he didn’t think he should be jumping out of a plane at the time, he explained.
He began thinking seriously about doing the jump about two years ago, when he heard that Skydive Minnesota had located in Milaca.
Now Baker has what he calls his “certificate of insanity,” attesting to his “willingly and successfully jumping out of an airplane two miles up.”
During Baker’s tandem skydive with Poshek, the two free fell the first half of the approximately 10,500-foot distance down, spreading out their arms “like Superman,” as Poshek explained it.
Poshek says the free fall was at 120 mph and lasted 30-40 seconds before Poshek pulled the cord to open the parachute with a mile to go to reach earth.
The rest of the way, by parachute, took another five or so minutes, Poshek said, noting that the two slid to a stop with their backs facing down.
Baker remembers a short instructional video and talk from Poshek, before the jump, about what would be going on. Poshek explains that part of the prep is going through the jump motions aboard the single-engine plane, while it is parked on the ground.
When the jump is to take place, Poshek explained, he places his right foot on the plane’s step, and has the other skydiver do the same, with each kneeling forward on their left knee. Then it’s just a roll out the door and into the free fall with the arms stretched out, Poshek said.
During the tandem skydive, the instructor is attached in four points to the person in front and Poshek says the tight attachment is so the front person doesn’t move around and impede the proper parachute deployment. (There is also a backup parachute.)
Poshek said he was surprised to learn that Baker wanted to take a skydive that day, appearing in the doorway of the Skydive Minnesota business without advance notice or reservation. Poshek said many of his customers have talked to him days before about their skydiving plan.
“In this case, here comes Clarence,” Poshek said, recalling how he asked Baker if his wife knew he was there, and how Baker answered that his wife “wanted nothing to do with it.”
It’s not uncommon that a skydiver, in their first dive, will have a number of family members watching the whole thing, Poshek said.
Poshek, who owns the skydiving business with his wife Kelly, said he has shopped at Marv’s True Value for years and has known Baker as a worker knowledgeable about hardware but who doesn’t express much emotion. “Clarence is also always on the move” as he waits on customers, Poshek observed.
Marv’s True Value employees who were interviewed for comments about Baker and his skydiving adventure, had this to say:
Bob Michael – “Congratulations, an awesome achievement.”
Sue Fennern, Baker’s co-supervisor – “Clarence is the type of person, he thrives on things like this. He has courage. He wanted to do this because he wanted to conquer this before he passes on.”
Mike Zeroth, Baker’s other supervisor, agreed with Fennern that it was something Baker wanted to accomplish in his lifetime, like something on a “bucket list.”
Fennern noted that a few days before Baker did the jump, his brother had died. “Clarence is kind of a remarkable man,” Fennern continued. “He never seems to be out of energy. I have never seen a man before like him. He and his wife square dance. He will work 10-hour days and then square dance after work late into the evening.”
Another fellow employee, Ryan Ortega, said about Baker – “He’s so happy, always happy. I’ve never seen him down.” Ortega also recalled how, more than once, Baker has suggested to some fellow employees that if they would want to jog around the Marv’s building, he would jog with them. “…A very nice man,” Ortega said. “We enjoy having him here.”
Samantha Howard, another employee, said – “He’s so cute. He’s always so joyful, jolly.” She talked about Baker literally running to the back of the store when he is looking for something. “If he feels like running, he will do it,” she said.
“He just kind of hops over, like a jogging hop,” Ortega said.
“He’s a wiry man,” said fellow worker Gary Kleinheksel. “He’s going all the time, one speed – full out.”
Baker’s skydiving has gotten a couple of the younger employees at Marv’s talking about trying the skydiving someday.
“You don’t have a feeling of falling,” Baker said, as he recounted his skydiving experience. “There’s a lot of wind blowing.”
Baker did admit to some nervous thinking as the plane took him up two miles. “When you get up a mile or two,” he said, “you kind of think, ‘What did I get myself into.’ Mille Lacs Lake was like a little dot out there. I knew I was going to go, not matter what, but it’s a long way up. Things are small down below. After the chute opens, it’s totally different (than the free fall).”
Baker talked about seeing different lakes and also manmade things like Milaca Unclaimed Freight, and the highways.
Baker said that Poshek let Baker pull certain ropes to move the parachute right or left so they could circle around to see different things below.
Baker’s most memorable part?
Baker said he will remember most the moment the exit door to the plane was opened and he was instructed to place his foot out there. “It’s kind of different,” he said.
Is this unusual for someone Baker’s age?
Skydive instructor Poshek said that out of the approximately 2,000 tandem jumps that have been done through his business, which is now in its fourth season, 20 to 30 of them have involved customers age 75 and older. His oldest customer was an 84-year-old great-grandfather who had hip replacements and knee work.
But Clarence Baker does seem to stand out in Poshek’s mind as one of his more enjoyable skydivers to go tandem with.
“Clarence did a great job,” Poshek said. “You could tell he was excited and enjoyed it. He is not a very expressive guy. He was not screaming or yelling (during the dive), like some young people are.
When Baker was asked last week if he had thought his skydiving was risky, he answered: “It’s not risky because if the chute doesn’t open, they give you your money back.”