MARYSVILLE — Although the building already bore his name, there was no marker on the Ken Baxter Senior and Community Center to explain who Baxter himself had been before his passing earlier this year.
Community activist Preston Dwoskin reflected on Baxter's legacy after reading newspaper articles about his life — which included nearly three decades each as a volunteer firefighter and a member of the Marysville City Council — and was inspired to contact Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring and the current City Council about memorializing Baxter at the Senior and Community Center which had been named after him while he was still alive.
City of Marysville Parks & Recreation Director Jim Ballew suggested installing a plaque to commemorate Baxter's life and achievements, and Marysville Fire Chief Greg Corn was among the first to share his recollections of Baxter during the Thursday, Sept. 13, ceremony to dedicate the plaque.
"Ken put in 15 years as a volunteer firefighter here in Marysville before he was elected to the City Council," Corn said. "To avoid a conflict of interest, he resigned with us, but joined the upstart fire department over on Hat Island. Ken was a good scrounger. He got a lot of equipment just by pestering people."
Baxter served as a volunteer firefighter for Hat Island for another 15 years, and when the current Marysville Fire District was officially instituted in 1992, Baxter became one of the six founding members of its Board of Directors.
"Ken was instrumental in laying the foundation for the 20 years that have followed," Corn said. "Every one of the Board's decisions was in the best interests of our residents."
Even after his 26 years on the Marysville City Council ended in 1998, Baxter paid frequent visits to the offices of the Marysville Fire District and City Hall.
"Ken always wanted to know more about the equipment," Corn said. "He would ask us what type of pump we were considering, and who the manufacturer was."
"Ken loved everything about Marysville," said Nehring, who first met Baxter during his own run for the City Council in 2001. "He was always very mild-mannered and soft-spoken, and gracious in taking the time to talk to me."
Nehring praised Baxter for focusing on the "non-glamorous" fields of water and sewage within the city's Public Works Department, and credited Baxter with laying the groundwork for water independence, which Nehring deemed a priority for Marysville to this day.
"Ken knew that you can't have economic development and quality of life without a healthy, functioning water and sewer system," Nehring said. "When we looked at purchasing and maintaining equipment, Ken wanted to make sure it would work as long as it could."
Although Nehring encouraged Baxter to schedule appointments to see him as mayor at City Hall, since Nehring didn't want to risk being out of the office if Baxter happened to stop by, Nehring noted that Baxter was always happy to take time out of his day to visit with city staff regardless.
"This city was his life, and we're the richer for it," Nehring said.
Marysville City Council and former Planning Commission member Steve Muller recalled Baxter as a longtime family friend who was committed to helping out his hometown, while Baxter's daughter, Marianne Powers, spoke briefly on behalf of her mother, Ken's widow Joann, and the number of other Baxter family members who had turned out for that morning's plaque unveiling.
"I've heard all the stories about him," Powers laughed. "I've heard everything that he did for this city and for the fire departments, both here and on Hat Island."
Although Dwoskin never met Ken Baxter, he began volunteering at the Ken Baxter Senior and Community Center back when he was still a freshman in high school, and he admitted that this occasion had left him feeling "emotional" as well.
"I wanted people to know who he was," Dwoskin said.