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In memoriam: Dexter F. Baker '50, '57G

Dexter F. Baker ’50, ’57G, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and university trustee who championed innovation and the arts while guiding Air Products to global prominence, died last week at the age of 85.

Baker, who never tired of exhorting students to pursue their dreams, last visited Lehigh less than a month ago to attend the gala concert of the Zoellner Arts Center and to help launch Lehigh’s new Creativity and Innovation Lab.

“We have lost a great friend who believed passionately that our students represent the future and that we owe it to them to do everything we can to foster their talent and creativity,” said Lehigh President Alice P. Gast.

“At the dedication of the Creativity and Innovation Lab, Dexter was beaming with pride as students, faculty and friends celebrated the great opportunites that the Baker Institute provides to Lehigh students.”

“Dexter Baker’s legacy will live for a long time at Lehigh,” said Todd Watkins, director of the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

“He wanted more than anything to inject the Lehigh community with a dose of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Watkins. “And he always told our students to challenge the status quo, to chase their passion and to think unconventionally.”

Baker joined Air Products, a Trexlertown-based company that is now one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial gases and chemicals, in the early 1950s. He successfully guided the company’s expansion into Europe and was elected to its board of directors when he was in his late 30’s. He went on to become chairman of the board and CEO at Air Products before retiring in 1992.

“We have lost a leader, a visionary and someone who was always willing to do what it took to make a difference,” said John McGlade, current CEO of Air Products.

A legacy of leadership and philanthropy

Born near Philadelphia, Baker earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946 and in the Army from 1950 to 1952.

Baker rendered tireless service to Lehigh as a member of the university’s board of trustees beginning in 1973 and as an active trustee emeritus. He pioneered departmental visiting committees and served as the chairman of the visiting committees for mechanical engineering and mechanics, chemical engineering and music.

Baker never strayed far from his roots, aside from living in England for a decade early in his career. He was known throughout the Lehigh Valley for his philanthropic endeavors. With his wife Dorothy, he co-chaired the $33 million capital campaign for the Zoellner Arts Center in the 1990s and made a generous contribution to name Baker Hall.

Previously the Bakers had created the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Gifted Arts Scholarship Program for students in the performing arts.

In 2010, Baker founded the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

“He has left a tremendous legacy to our university,” said Gast. “He made Lehigh a place that attracts creative students who are drawn here by outstanding arts programs and by a culture and environment of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

“Dream big dreams”

In 1981, Lehigh awarded Baker an Honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

Two weeks ago, the College of Business and Economics honored Baker with a lifetime achievement award at its annual MBA Day celebration.

After accepting the inaugural award, Baker told an audience of students and alumni to set their sights high.

“If you dream big dreams, they’re more likely to happen than if you don’t dream at all. The only future we have is the one we create for ourselves.

“Every day we have an opportunity to do something unique, something different, not just to follow in the footsteps of others but to be the captain of our own ship and take that ship where we want it to go.

“What Lehigh is trying to do is to help students create a great future for themselves, for their families, maybe someday for Lehigh, and certainly for our country as a whole.”
 
Baker won great respect for his business acumen. He served as a chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers and accompanied President George H. W. Bush as part of a business delegation during a 1992 presidential trade mission to Asia.

Also in 1992, he was named Business Leader of the Year by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry for his accomplishments with Air Products.

In addition to Dorothy Baker, his wife of 61 years, he is survived by four daughters and six grandchildren.

A celebration of life service will be held at 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 11, at First Presbyterian Church, 2344 Center Street in Bethlehem.

Condolences to the family may be emailed to DexterBakerFamily@gmail.com or sent to the Bachman Funeral Home, 1629 Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18102. Memorial contributions may be made to Lehigh Valley youth and arts organizations or to the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation at Lehigh.

 

 
Posted on Monday, November 05, 2012
 
 
Married for 61 years, Dexter and Dorothy Baker were well known for their philanthropic activities, especially for their support of music.
 
“Dexter Baker always told our students to challenge the status quo, to chase their passion and to think unconventionally.”—Todd Watkins, director of the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation
 
“The only future you have,” Baker told many a Lehigh student, “is the one you create for yourself.”
 
In his first few years at Air Products, Baker played a key role in persuading the company to establish a global presence.
 
Dexter Baker, shown here in a 1983 photo with researchers in a laboratory, visited Lehigh frequently to meet with students and faculty.
 
At home, Baker was an avid reader.
"The ultimate leader"

Lehigh alumni shared memories of Dexter Baker when they heard of his death.

Baker’s passing “was a true loss,” said Michael D. Zisman ’70, a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees and president of Wayne Strategy Consultants. “Dex was quite a man.”

Paul N. Leitner ’76, principal with the Leitner Thomas Group in New York and a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees, recalled how Baker persuaded Air Products to seek an international presence.

“Dex was a part-time Lehigh MBA student in the late 1950s who, like many, was stalled in completing his degree,” said Leitner. “The dean called him in and suggested he write a thesis on something he was passionate about that related to his young career.

“Dex wrote his thesis on ‘How Air Products should open offshore markets.’ The Air Products CEO at the time read the paper, handed it back to Dex with a passport, and sent him to Europe as the first Air Products [overseas] employee. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Baker, said Michael J. Caruso ’67, president of Caruso Benefits Group Inc. in Bethlehem and a Lehigh trustee emeritus, “was a true role model to me.

“I knew Dex from the ‘70s on,” said Caruso. “He was the ultimate leader, innovator and gentleman, all rolled up into one mind and body.”

Ronald J. Ulrich ’66, ’05H, president of Breithorn Capital Management LLC in New York and former chairman of Lehigh’s board of trustees, called Baker a “Lehigh patriot.

“Dexter always promoted excellence and encouraged the best in others,” said Ulrich. “In many ways, he embodied the Lehigh spirit and the university’s traditions. He was alert and intuitive to the end and he was ever creative and entrepreneurial.

“We will remember Dexter as one of Lehigh’s true giants. I was honored to have known him as a friend and to have worked with him as a fellow trustee.”

 

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