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Columbia Missourian

Sophie Baker, 89, was independent, dedicated to her family

By Marissa Weiher
June 24, 2013 | 6:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — If there was one thing that kept Sophie Gushleff Baker going, it was her sassiness. 

"If she wanted things done a certain way, by golly, that's the way she wanted them done," her daughter Laura Williamson said.

Mrs. Baker died Friday, June 21, 2013. She was 89.

Mrs. Baker was born May 21, 1924, in Madison, Ill., to Louis and Mary (Jagroff) Gushleff. Her father was the first Pepsi distributor in St. Louis during the Great Depression, Williamson said.

During World War II, Mrs. Baker worked in the Army Depot in Granite City, Ill., coordinating railroad supply shipments. She married John Baker on Nov. 19, 1950. They were married for almost 51 years.

Mrs. Baker's first priority was her family. In 1950, she became a stay-at-home mother and raised five children. The age difference between her youngest child and oldest child was 15 years.

"It was an important job to her," Williamson said. 

Once her children had moved out of the house, she and her husband enjoyed traveling. They traveled to Hawaii and Europe, and took cruises in the Caribbean. She was also an avid golfer. 

In 1980, Mrs. Baker moved to Columbia where she volunteered for the Columbia Regional Hospital for 30 years, and was the hospital's longest-running volunteer. For the past 25 years, Mrs. Baker was legally blind. But it didn't keep her from delivering mail and talking to the patients. She knew her way through the hospital so well she didn't need her vision to navigate. It was only three years ago Mrs. Baker stopped volunteering due to her declining health. 

"That was her thing," Williamson said. "It was a big deal if she was unable to volunteer every Monday."

Mrs. Baker was also an enthusiastic gambler. She and her husband used to go to Las Vegas twice a year and they would go to St. Louis or Kansas City two or three times a month to gamble. Once the Isle of Capri was built in Booneville, she went about two or three times a week. Her picture was often framed on the wall for winning $10,000 playing slots, which she once won four times in the same year. 

Mrs. Baker was a passionate fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Missouri Tigers. Her life revolved around the game times and she often carried around a radio so she could listen to the games. She didn't like visitors while she was watching a game unless they wanted to watch it with her; if they were going to disrupt her that was a no-no, her daughter said.

"She was not your typical elderly woman," Williamson said. "Her caregivers described her as a spitfire."

Williamson's favorite memory of her mother was how she made holidays and each of her and her siblings' birthdays special. Mrs. Baker often told stories about her parents who were immigrants from Macedonia. 

"Her biggest legacy is her family," Williamson said.

Mrs. Baker is survived by her children, Marty Baker, and wife, Linda, of Little Rock, Ark., Mark Baker, and wife, Lynn, of St. Louis, Kevin Baker, and wife, Dee Dee, of Bradley, Ill., Mary Jane Scieszinski, and husband, Greg, of Clive, Iowa, and Laura Williamson, and husband, David, of Columbia; 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Her husband, John Baker, her parents, three brothers and one sister died earlier.

Visitation will be form 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church, 16 Hitt St.

Memorial contributions can be made to First Presbyterian Church in Columbia.

Online condolences can be left at

Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.