Karen Baker, my mother, was born in Korsor, Denmark on Oct. 11, 1919. She died on Aug. 4, 2021 in Port Townsend, Washington, almost reaching her 102nd birthday.
She was the third child of six children. Her childhood was a happy one with parents who encouraged each child to pursue their individual interests. For my mother this included gymnastics, rowing on a crew team and being an enthusiastic member of what was then called the Girl Guides. She survived two childhood epidemics in which she contracted diphtheria and spinal meningitis at a time when there were no antibiotics. Her nickname as a child and still used by all of her Danish relatives was “Ralle.”
She would most likely have spent her life in Denmark if world events had not intervened. In 1939, as part of her education, she went to live with the Stonehill family in London to improve her English and help care for their two young children. As war clouds gathered, the Stonehills, who had family in America, fearing the coming Blitz, decided to try to get out of Europe while they still could. They were able to get papers for my mother to accompany them, as returning to Denmark would have been very risky with her country on the brink of German invasion and an occupation that lasted for five years. The family and my mother escaped across France in March 1940 to Genoa, Italy where they were able to get passage on the S.S. Washington, one of the last passenger vessels to make the Atlantic crossing before shipping was shut down due to the war. They arrived in New York on April 4, 1940.
Karen did not see Denmark or her family again until 1954 when she returned with her husband and young daughter on their first post-war trip back to Europe.
In New York, Karen met her husband-to-be, Hans Baker, at a party. They were married on Feb. 17, 1942. During the war years, Karen served as an Air Raid Warden for the United States Citizens Defense Corps. She kept her helmet and modeled it for visiting family on her 100th birthday. She became a naturalized American citizen on June 19, 1944. Her daughter Carol was born in New York on Aug. 28, 1948.
For many years, Karen worked as a volunteer for the American Red Cross mobile blood bank unit. She received a Certificate of Appreciation from New York Mayor John Lindsey in 1971.
Her husband Hans was a German-trained brewmaster who immigrated to New York in 1938, getting out of Germany just in time. He was hired by the Schaefer Brewing Company where his brewing skills were greatly appreciated.
Karen and Hans lived in the same rent-controlled Manhattan apartment from 1948 to 2000 when Hans passed away. Eventually, they were able to buy a house in Bayport, Long Island where they spent summers and weekends. That way, they had both a city and country life with many friends in both places. In Bayport, they greatly enjoyed boating on the Great South Bay and visiting the beach at Fire Island Pines.
After retirement, they traveled extensively in Europe and the Caribbean, returning annually to the same places where they met up with old friends and family.
After Hans’s death in 2000, Karen came out to Port Townsend to visit and at my urging decided to move here. She was 80 years old at the time and I had been warned by her friends that people that age did not transplant well. I asked her about this and she said she didn’t feel that way and wanted to make the move.
Consequently, she and I had 21 years of a very close relationship. She grew to love Port Townsend and the Pacific Northwest and fully understood why I had chosen to live here. Together, we went on many road trips so I could introduce her to all my favorite places. We also visited family in Denmark and made trips to Hawaii and Alaska, places she had not been to before. She was a wonderful travel companion, always interested in seeing new places and having new experiences.
In her years living in Port Townsend, she came to know my friends and they, her. One year she hosted a Danish-style Christmas/Winter Solstice party with an array of Danish open face sandwiches (Smorrebrod) and plenty of beer and Aquavit for toasting. She was an accomplished cook and for many years prepared Christmas dinner for myself and friends.
Karen lived independently for 14 years at Kala Point where she made new friends and was an active Bridge player. She also had the pleasure of welcoming many visiting relatives from Denmark.
In September 2014, after breaking her ankle twice in a short period of time and no longer able to drive, she moved to a sunny apartment at Seaport Landing (now Avamere). Here again, she adapted well to a whole new set of circumstances, actively involved herself in the community, enjoyed meeting new people, made friends and found new Bridge partners.
She was able to celebrate her 100th birthday on Oct. 11, 2019 at the Alchemy Restaurant in Port Townsend with a gathering of friends and family, including a niece and nephew who came from Denmark to be with her.
During the year of COVID isolation when no visitation was allowed at Avamere, we spoke several times a day on the phone, including morning meowed greetings from Carmen, her grand-kitty.
In her long life, she experienced so much, with a historical perspective that few now have. Yet she was repeatedly able to adjust to changes in place and circumstance and move forward. Her century of living was indeed a life well lived. She will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her.
Karen was preceded in death by her husband, Hans W. Baker, her parents Niels Christian Hansen and Anna Oline Jensen, two sisters and three brothers.
She is survived by her daughter Carol Ann Baker (Ian); her nieces Anne G, Hansen and Hanne Bo Hansen; and her nephews Niels Christian Hansen, Jens Lyhne Andersen, Axel Hansen, and Christian Aarosin.
Memorial donations are suggested to the Jefferson Land Trust, 1033 Lawrence St., Port Townsend, WA 98368.