The Cherokee Nation's "first mother," retired educator Dr. Isabel Baker, was honored recently with the Carl Albert Award – a lifetime award from the Oklahoma Democratic Party – at the state convention, held in the Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center.
Baker was affectionately called "the matriarch of the Oklahoma Democratic Party," by former Gov. David Walters when he introduced her.
"There are not many people that I pray to God to give me the strength and wisdom to emulate, but Dr. Baker is one of them,” said Walters. “She has served in every support position within the Democratic Party. All of that experience made her a political powerhouse."
The most refreshing aspect of her legendary political activity is that it was never about her, or her family – or an effort to increase her political influence, said Walters.
"It was always about education, kids, health care, better jobs and those members of our society living in poverty," he said. "This willingness to work, organize, call, cajole, fund raise, campaign, get ads in the local papers, get surrogates to local events, was all for the benefit of improving the lives of others.”
One of Baker's sons, Principal Chief Bill John Baker, was on hand to push her to the front of the assembly room in a wheelchair.
"I felt humble, very humble," said an apparently surprised Baker, who acknowledged feeling "kind of overwhelmed" when she was being honored. "I've known those people for years and I didn't realize this was going to happen."
She was the only recipient of an award that day to receive a standing ovation.
Born in Row, Oklahoma, Baker moved to Tahlequah as a youth and has called it home most of her life, graduating from high school here at age 16.
A mother of three sons, and many grandchildren, Baker followed in the footsteps of her parents, both educators. After graduating from Oklahoma State University (Oklahoma A&M) in 1954 with a master's degree in elementary education, and her doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 1972, she taught in Oklahoma public schools almost 20 years. Baker also taught at Morehead State University, Oklahoma State University and Northeastern State University, retiring as professor emeritus.
Her willingness to serve her community, which is much wider than her Tahlequah home, has included Oklahoma State University/A&M College of Regents, vice chair of the Tahlequah Hospital Foundation, and president of Phi Delta Kappa.
Honors and awards received by Baker are numerous and include Oklahoma Woman's Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Mother of the Year, OSU's College of Education Hall of Fame, Northeastern State University's President's Award for Community Service, Health and Aviation Hall of Fame, and NSU Centurion.
For at least 50 years, Baker has served the Democratic Party, and she said it's about making the community safer and better for people, not politics.
"Some of my best friends are Republicans, and I love my Democrat friends, too, even though we have our philosophical differences," she said.
One memory she shared was also her biggest disappointment in politics.
"I just knew we were going to elect a woman president, Hillary Clinton. I know not everyone likes her, but I think it is time for a woman," said Baker.
Women are being given more recognition than they once were, according to Baker.
"I'm proud of that. Maybe it's not too far in the future 'til one is president," she said.
It was as a delegate for Clinton at the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia that the local public servant spoke to the nation.
Bernie Sanders' people were seated with Clinton supporters, and Baker recalled that they were friendly to one another. But when she went to speak, a boy with Bernie Sanders put a paper in front of her face so people on TV couldn't see her.
"Another friend tore the paper down and later told me he wasn't 'going to let him hide your face while you spoke to the nation,'" she said
Baker spoke on national TV, saying: “I was born in 1929, only nine years after women were granted the right to vote. I never thought that I would live to see this day. So tonight, I'm deeply honored to help cast our state's votes for the first woman president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.”
An aspect of Baker's personal and political philosophy is also advice to care and then do something.
"We should care, whether Democrat or Republican," Baker said. "I appreciate people getting in there and doing their best. I try every day to do what's right and support good people and vote against the bad ones."
Her Facebook presence is also about making a difference, speaking in kindness and being positive. Maybe that's her secret to a long, happy life and legacy.