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‘Kevin was larger than life’: community mourns loss of executive dean Kevin Baker

Co-written by Andre Spence and Andrew Neary

It’s been a difficult two weeks for staff and students at Durham College.

Kevin Baker, 59, executive dean of the Faculty of Business, made a mark on the lives of people around the community. His death over Thanksgiving weekend left a wound.

Members of the community are mourning the loss of a supportive friend, “wonderful boss,” and “advocate for the underdog.”

“Kevin was an avid storyteller,” said Jen Plishewsky, 40. “I think some people thought he rambled, but he did not. He used his stories to inspire, to connect with people, [and] to provide advice.”

Plishewsky is the project coordinator for TeachingCity Oshawa, an organization that provides opportunities for students, faculty and researchers to apply their school knowledge in real-life scenarios in the community.

The organization works alongside Durham College and that’s where Plishewsky met Baker two years ago.

”Kevin was quickly a part of my village of support,” said Plishewsky. “He did that in a variety of ways, showing up for me, [and] providing me with advice.”

She described him as someone who was present in every moment, and he left a big hole.

She said Baker always listened to what people had to say and always made them feel important, a character trait she wants to integrate into her life.

Sam Plati, 55, a professor in the business faculty at DC, met Baker ten years ago when he was first hired.

Plati and a group of faculty members were at a college event in Kingston, when Baker took them out for a “quick drink.”

Plati said he had “just met him for 30 seconds, and [he was] already welcoming and willing to help.”

He said Baker went beyond being nice.

He was there whenever Plati needed someone to talk to, whether it was over coffee, drinks, or “California Sandwiches, one of Kevin’s favourite places when he was not on his diet.”

“What I remember is that he was a genuine person and that he treated all of us with respect and we respected him,” Plati said. “So, that’s going to be my memory.”

Keri-Ellen Walcer, 45, is the program coordinator for the Small Business and Entrepreneurship program at Durham College.

Baker met Walcer when she started at the college. He made it a point to meet with every new hire one-on-one.

A “dynamic memory” that she has of him is the annual breakfast he would organize. About 25 people from different backgrounds would gather, all of whom would pitch in $50. That money would then go towards a tip for the server.

“He looked at everybody as being equal,” said Walcer. “He celebrated your accomplishments regardless of who you were.”

Sheldon Koufman, 35, professor and program coordinator for sports management at DC, said he met Baker at work but quickly became his friend.

“I don’t know how not to call him my friend because you don’t joke as much with somebody. You don’t get as personal, intimate with somebody,” Koufman said.

“He was certainly my boss, but he was also a wonderful boss”

Koufman said Baker always rooted for the underdog. “He wanted to support people where they were, you know, to help them develop.”

According to Koufman, Baker didn’t go directly to teaching. He took a winding path, working as a lawyer, a mechanic, a chef, and a banker.

Baker started a “dine with the dean” initiative, where he would invite students for a talk over a catered lunch to learn about their lives.

Koufman said the students he recommended the lunch to would come back to him and say, “I learned so much, so many stories. Thank you so much for doing it, because that’s a really important person in our life.”

After a 30-minute lunch meeting, Baker made such an impression on students that Koufman reached out to check in with them after his death.

“He had stories for everyone,” Koufman said. “ I don’t think there’s anybody that he could meet in his life he wouldn’t be able to connect with. And that’s just who he was. He loved people and, he wanted to get to know who you really were.”

“I love him. I miss him. That’s it.”

Baker’s funeral service will be on Monday, Oct. 23.