'Mimi' retires from GHS after more than 30 years

by Renee Hunter

Susan Baker, or “Mimi” as she is called, will retire this month from Greenbrier High School.

She is ambivalent about retirement and looking forward to traveling with her husband, Grady, who also retired this year; perhaps taking a cruise, or a trip out West — certainly visiting family in Jasper, Tenn., more often and watching granddaughter Haley play sports. She’s looking forward to more time for the Boykin Spaniels that she and Grady have bred and trained for 30-plus years.

Baker anticipates more time to read and to discover new authors. But at some point, what was simply an enjoyable job developed into a passion, and it’s hard to walk away from that.

“I love what I do,” Susan said. “That’s what makes it so hard to leave.”

Susan began her GHS career in 1973, after graduation from what was then Arkansas State Teachers College. She and Grady had been married for three years and had an 18-month-old, the first of three — Justin, Jeff and Jeremy.

Then, her classes were about cooking, sewing and housekeeping skills, such as proper bed-making, and her students were mostly girls. She taught three classes of home economics, one of eighth-grade science and a “family living” class for senior boys.

Over the years, the subject matter morphed from “home ec” to “Family and Consumer Science” in order to keep up with a changing world, and the number of male students increased.

More women were handling the dual roles of wage-earner and parent; many were single mothers.

“That was when the change was made into Family and Consumer Science,” Baker said. Cooking, sewing and housekeeping became home management and career planning.

In 1977, GHS built a new home ec department and began the transition to semester courses such as food and nutrition and clothing and textiles. An orientation to teaching class was added.

Classes in childcare management and child development were also included, and under Baker’s direction, GHS opened a childcare facility, thus allowing students in those classes hands-on childcare experience.

“That was so successful,” she said.

The facility kept teachers’ children and was free to the children of teen parents as long as they took one of Baker’s classes. At its height, the center kept children from infancy to age 5. Baker’s grandchildren — Jeff’s children, Nicole, Brandon and Savannah — were among the attendees. Because they called Baker “Mimi,” the other children did, too, and soon so did her students. The name has stuck.

The center closed after about 10 years, but Baker’s subject matter continued to develop to meet a growing need. Besides courses in childcare management and child development, there is a course in parenting, and all three are certified by the Arkansas Department of Human Services. A course in leadership and service learning and a year-long course in FACS are also offered.

There were other changes — from grade book, adding machine and typewriter to computer, for example — and changes in attitudes of both parents and students as life became faster paced. Teachers began to receive less support from busy parents. Students became more disrespectful, reflecting the disrespect in society as a whole. Discipline issues changed from gum-chewing to drugs and alcohol.

Susan also sponsored the GHS Family, Career, Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) organization, which grew out of the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) club. The organization has 35-40 members, and over the years, Baker boasts, her group has produced four state officers, the current one being Kallee King, current state FCCLA secretary.

“The main thing I wanted to do was instill family values and goals,” Baker said of her long career. Her co-teacher and former student, Pamela Nacke, and her intern and a recent UCA grad, Courtney Cooper, can attest that she has done exactly that.