Businesswoman with Heart
Beverly Baker ’54 has a zest for life that shows in all her personal and professional activities.
Beverly Baker ’54 still lives in the Ithaca house that her parents bought when she was 11 months old. That may suggest a sheltered and protected life, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Her broadcasting career included working with such luminaries as Ronald Reagan, Robert Young, Bob and Ray, and Rod Serling. And her career in the travel industry brought her to places across the country and around the world.
Beverly started her 20-plus years in broadcasting on a teenagers’ show on Ithaca’s WHCU. Joe Short ’35, the station’s program director, advised her to go to Ithaca College rather than the University of Michigan. “He told me that at Ithaca I’d have hands-on experience right from the start,” says Beverly. “He was absolutely right.”
There were just 11 radio-television majors in her class; they operated out of a “shack” on Court Street. “We had a tiny studio/classroom, another tiny studio, a control room, a couple of offices, and radio broadcasting equipment—but no cameras for the TV part of radio-TV!” she remembers. “We were a very close group, and we still keep in touch.”
After graduating, Beverly worked for radio stations in Ithaca, Syracuse, and New York. She had planned to get a master’s degree, but some work with a wholesale travel agency (thanks to Gene Rosmus ’54) earned her a free airline ticket, and she opted instead to take a tour of the world—alone. “Not many young women traveled abroad alone,” she says. “I was young and naïve and didn’t speak another language, but I made it home safe after the trip of a lifetime.”
That journey inspired her to start a second career. She returned to Ithaca to manage a newly formed travel agency, whose owner was ill. Then in 1973 she opened Baker Travel. “In those days banks weren’t really interested in loaning money to a woman to open a business,” Beverly says, “so my parents mortgaged the house to come up with the $10,000 I needed to get started.” Baker Travel was the first business in Ithaca with smoke-free offices, and from the beginning offered job sharing and flextime—concepts way ahead of their time.
Beverly has reinvented the agency several times in its 33-year history. “You can’t continue to do business the way you’ve always done business,” she says, “or you’re out of business.” The most recent reiteration has been the most dramatic. “When the commission cuts [from airlines] first hit [in the 1990s],” she explains, “we started to reposition ourselves for survival. Then, as technology increased to allow one to work from home, we gradually reduced our office space from eight rooms to one. Finally, last fall we closed our storefront, the last of the staff went home, and we became one of the first independent retail agencies to become totally virtual,” she says, then adds, laughing, “despite the fact I’m basically technologically challenged!”
Beverly herself specializes in group travel, and now arranges trips for more than 100 groups a year. Many clients are referred by her college friend Lloyd Meeker ’55, who created the Field Studies Center of New York in 1969. Beverly also handles travel arrangements for the study abroad programs of Ithaca College and many other colleges and universities.
Beverly has always been greatly involved in the Ithaca community—a legacy from her parents. She serves on the boards of Historic Ithaca and the Baden-Powell Council of the Boy Scouts of America; is on a county tourism board; spearheads a city beautification project; and is involved in establishing a women’s fund. She is a trustee at Tompkins Cortland Community College, where she established a nursing scholarship in honor of her mother, who was a nurse, and the Helping Hands Fund, which awards small grants to students in need. Beverly is particularly proud of her association with Rotary International. She was one of the first women to join the Ithaca Rotary Club and served as its president in 2004–5, Rotary International’s centennial and the club’s 90th anniversary year. “Rotary’s motto is ‘Service above self,’ ” says Jeff True, Ithaca Rotary president in 2003–4, “and Beverly Baker lives that motto every day of her life.”
A grateful community has honored Beverly for her many contributions. She has received Ithaca College’s Distinguished Alumni Award (1995), the Tompkins Trust Company’s Award for Excellence, and the Distinguished Citizen Award, and was awarded life membership in the Chamber of Commerce. This May she will receive the Others Award, the highest civilian award bestowed by the Salvation Army.
Much of Beverly’s volunteer activity involves her alma mater. “It truly is Ithaca’s college,” she says. “When I was growing up, women students lived in dormitories downtown, the men rented rooms from local people, and the classrooms were in various places around town. People lived, worked, and played downtown. It didn’t become fashionable to move to the suburbs until about 1950.” Not long after that, Ithaca College itself moved to South Hill. “Very few alumni have memories of both [downtown and South Hill] campuses,” Beverly says. “I feel fortunate to be one of them.
She remembers Walter Beeler and the band practicing in DeWitt Park and residents enjoying the impromptu concerts. “The College’s 1992 centennial celebration ended with a concert replicating Beeler’s,” she says. “I was president of the Friends of Ithaca College that year and felt it should be become a tradition. So Baker Travel, Inc., has sponsored the annual Friends concert ever since.” Beverly has endowed the concert in her will so it will continue in perpetuity, and she supports a scholarship at the College as well.
“Ithaca College was a small school when I attended,” says Beverly. “I am so proud of what it has become, of what its alumni are doing, and particularly of its encouragement of community service.”