Virgil R. Baker peacefully passed away at home surrounded by his loving family. Throughout his life, Virgil had the ability to walk into a room of strangers and leave surrounded by new friends. His work ethic, genuine humility and interest in learning were lifelong attributes.
Virgil was the third of seven children of Margaret Elvira (Brandfas) Baker and Roy L. Baker. He was born in Scotts Mills, Oregon and later moved to Kansas where he attended a one room schoolhouse. With Virgil and his three brothers and three sisters, the number of students in the school doubled. The family moved to Yelm in 1948 when Virgil was 10 years old. He was a gifted athlete and had a passion for baseball.
Virgil was a self-made man. He started his lifetime adventure with the love of his life and high school sweetheart, Darlene Elva Cullens. On June 15, 1956, at the tender ages of 18 and 19 they were married in Yelm, Washington. As a team, they were unstoppable. They lived a big life together and enjoyed 65 years of marriage. By the time Virgil was 26 they had five children, unexpected twins were part of the package. But the responsibilities of a large family on such a young man were just part of the fun. Virgil never shied away from hard work or long hours. He wanted the best for his family and was willing to do what it took to provide that.
Virgil started his work life as a logger with The Weyerhaeuser Company. During this time, the family had grown to five children but the home had only two bedrooms. Virgil did the unthinkable and doubled the size of the home by hand digging a basement. He had to start digging 25 feet from the house to build a road to go under the home. Every night, after an exhausting day of logging, using a barn shovel, he would fill two pick-up truck beds of dirt, shovel by shovel, having to both load and unload it. Unbelievably, there was not a single rock under the house. After months of incredibly hard work, Virgil added four new bedrooms, a play area and a staircase to the original home.
Logging is a very physical and dangerous job. After several close encounters with death, he realized that he needed to leave the woods or risk being hurt and unable to support his family. A neighbor suggested he consider Armstrong Homes. This was a huge change and a big risk for the young family. Virgil had to complete a six-week training period during which he was not paid. At the end of the training, Virgil was not offered a job. He went directly to Mr. Armstrong and promised him that if he gave Virgil the opportunity to work, he would never regret it. Mr. Armstrong did give him that chance. After working seven days a week up to 12 hours a day at Armstrong Homes in Lacey, Virgil was their number one salesperson. He would have a line of people waiting to talk to him while his fellow employees sat at empty desks. The clients had come to see Virgil and would wait to work only with him. Virgil attributed much of his success to “farmers tactics.” He was the only salesperson permitted to come to work without a tie, as his style was his own and extremely successful.
But Virgil wanted more. He dreamed of his own company. Virgil was that rare combination of both a dreamer and a worker. Virgil and Darlene started Sunrise Homes Inc. in Lacey, Washington in 1976. When they built their commercial building in Yelm to house their new business the interest rate was 18%, but that did not stop them. Fear was not a word in their vocabularies. Even with five children tagging along, they were risk takers. They ran Sunrise Homes and Yelm Home Center until 2008. Over the years they helped build hundreds of custom homes and commercial buildings. Not only did Virgil build the homes, but he also designed and drew up the plans for each one. In 1994, Virgil was honored with the Builder of the Year award.
But Virgil was not all work. He loved to have fun. He liked nothing better than to get together with his family and especially his brothers. He would visit his family on Baker Road (named after his family) and watch the Mariners with his mom and brothers. Razor clam digging was a family activity and Virgil never left the ocean without his limit. He was a University of Washington football fan and was customarily dressed in purple and gold. Whether “fighting the bees,” golfing or filling his 1933 Model A Ford dump truck bed with golf balls, Virgil made it fun.
Virgil is survived by his wife of 65 years, Darlene Elva Baker. He is also survived by his children Debra Baker (Dean), Dennis Baker (Cary), Denise Graham (Frederick), Diane Baker and David Baker (Kelly); and his 10 grandchildren Desiree, D.J., Chris, Douglas, Kendra, Darlene, Felecia, Jay, John and Frederick. He also has three wonderful great-grandchildren: Carter, Noah and James. Virgil is preceded in death by his parents Roy and Elvira Baker, and two brothers Lee and Dale Baker. He is survived by his brother Joe Baker, and his sisters Eva Enlow, Lois Baker and Faye Myers.
Although Virgil battled Alzheimer’s at the end of his life, his passion for life and his family never wavered. To the last day of his life he did not allow Alzheimer’s to define him. He was “Virgil R. Baker” as he said every day.
A graveside service will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 11:30 a.m. at the Yelm Cemetery, 11540 Cemetery Road SE, Yelm, Washington, 98597.
Following the graveside service please join us in celebrating the life of Virgil, at the home he designed and built at 14501 Berry Valley Road SE, Yelm, Washington, 98597.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made on Virgil’s behalf to the Alzheimer’s Association online at www.alz.org.