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The Morning Call Archives

Copyright © 2010 The Morning Call

ID: 4637428
Publication Date: June 27, 2010
Day: Sunday
Page: A1
Edition: FIRST
Section: News
Type: Local
Length: medium

Series: Profiles **An occasional series on Lehigh Valley personalities

Byline: By Christopher Baxter OF THE MORNING CALL

Headline: For the 'love of township' **From the shadows, Diane Baker
kept Forks leaders in check **PROFILES: DIANE BAKER, 1949-2010

Diane Baker rarely said a word during the hundreds of Forks Township
meetings she chronicled from the audience, opting instead to dance her
fingers across a laptop like a pianist who knew the whole of her work
would speak louder than any single note.

If the meetings were Baker's inspiration, her website was her stage, an
anonymous and thorough exposition of all things Forks that let no
supervisors conveniently forget where they stood.

But her six years of blog posts ended last month. Lung cancer finally
sidelined an otherwise tireless Baker, who even after her diagnosis rarely
missed Forks' political fireworks. On June 18, Baker died from the
cigarettes she smoked for much of her life. She was 60.

"I used to joke with her that she was the worst-kept secret in Forks," said
Supervisor David Billings, who met Baker in 2007 when he first ran for
office and answered her candidate questionnaire. "Everyone knew who
she was, but she just didn't want people to know."

Perhaps her privacy stemmed from her roots in New England, where she
grew up before marrying her husband of 38 years, Mel, and moving into a
modest stone Cape along the Delaware River. As a water's edge resident,
she embraced the river and its health as she did the rest of her community.

Baker was an "Iron Maiden," with more than three decades in the steel
industry and membership in the United Steelworkers' Women of Steel
group. She most recently served as manager at Orkin Steel in Slatington;
President Rory Orkin was like a brother.

"One of my customers said to me, 'You can fill her job, but you can't fill
her shoes,'" Orkin said.

Baker became known locally for her website, Forks Action Committee,
which she began in 2004 after her husband mounted an unsuccessful
write-in bid for supervisor. Baker helped him campaign, and when he lost,
she soldiered on with a fierce sense of civic duty.

"I told her, 'If you don't go to every supervisors meeting, every zoning
meeting, every planning meeting, then you're not going to the meetings,'"
said Mel Baker, 68. "So that's what she did."

She became a written version of C-SPAN, a clandestine blogger who used

a laptop, an Internet connection and an inquiring mind to keep local
politicians in check. "Let the discussions begin! :-)," she wrote at the end
of her first post.

During the website's first year, Baker and others held a voter registration
drive and endorsed their first supervisor candidate, C. David Howell.
They interviewed six people, according to an anniversary post on the blog,
and decided he was the best choice. Voters agreed.

"I moved to Forks in 2004 and was running for office in 2005," Howell
said. "I was new to the community and had no support. Diane, as a
longtime resident, was a valuable resource and friend."

In the following years, Baker missed only a handful of meetings. She

posted exhaustive notes, tracked every township development and sent
supervisors media clippings from as far as Harrisburg about news related
to Forks. She also encouraged elected officials to explain their decisions.

In January, Billings voted against an Army Reserve training center

proposed in the township, a controversial move that stirred some dissent.
Baker suggested he post to his own blog explaining why he opposed the
"'You owe people that,'" she told him. He followed her advice.

Baker was not all business. The astute visitor to her blog could find
threads of humor and sarcasm woven into her dispatches. In a post last
year about Commonwealth Court denying a developer who wanted to
build thousands of homes, she included four little animated piglets
jumping up and down.

The site was in essence an extension of her, and she could never
disconnect. On vacation in Montreal with her two sisters last year, Baker
spent her evenings preparing the latest meeting notes. Diagnosed with
cancer shortly thereafter, she never slowed down. In the hospital for
chemotherapy, she sat in the treatment chair, type-type-typing away.

"She had a quote she kept telling me: 'Love of country, love of township.'"
Billings said. "After she became sick, the only thing I noticed was that the
meeting minutes got shorter."

The cancer moved swiftly, much more so than friends, family or even her
doctors had anticipated. She died after 351 blog posts. Number 352
anonymously acknowledged her illness, without using her name. No one
knows what's next.

For such an intelligent woman, Mel Baker said, his wife could never quit
smoking. "It was the only thing we fought about," he said. When she lit up
a cigarette next to him, he would turn and say in jest, "Thank you for not

Her obituary ended with the same line. The farewell also acknowledged,
for the first time publicly, her work on the blog. No doubt she would have