Anyone in town with any environmental know-how has to know who Sue Baker is. She's the girl who grew up on a farm in the Midwest, knowing about crops and food and animal husbandry and sustainability. In the days of Victory gardens, Sue, who's 73, learned the makeup of soil, of food chains and saw her mother "always canning."
It was natural that Sue would study to be a biologist in college and then go on study to marine biology - after moving east, marrying and settling in next to Long Island Sound. City life wasn't for her. "People grow away from the earth when they move into cities," she said.
And so it was that she came to be a marine biology teacher at Greenwich High School, also teaching honors oceanography -- for 25 years. Her love of the watery side of life also included diving and coaching others into the Olympics. She's now a member of the Greenwich Aquatics Hall of Fame and in 1999 was honored with the Spirit of Greenwich Award.
She's served her time on the boards of countless environmental and conservation organizations in town, as well as founding some. So it was high time that Sue Baker was roasted.
Everyone was there on that January night at Richards for the "Friendly" Roast and Toast of Susie Baker" hosted by SoundWaters -- to applaud the contributions Sue is best known for, as an environmental educator.
She's one of the best teachers I've ever known," said Len Miller of Old Greenwich, the founder of SoundWaters. "Kids did almost anything they had to to get into her class at Greenwich High School (GHS). She taught with passion, confidence and commitment. She was on the board of SoundWaters. She personifies what SoundWaters has had to do to bring passion and commitment to environmental education. The first thing you have to do is make people aware. When you get them aware you educate them."
Mary Hull of Greenwich Green and Clean has known Sue for 40 years. She called Sue "a worker bee." "Every board loves her, as she really participates. She never stops teaching. She'll ignore the grownups to talk to the children. She's one helluva ageless dynamo.
"She has a lot of energy - she has a fire," said GHS headmaster, Chris Winters. "She was a fabulous teacher for many years."
"What she pioneered in environmental education is teaching about the local environment," said Dr. Leigh Shemitz, executive director of SoundWaters. "She's place-based. There's no substitute for studying your own environment. If you know that really well, the whole world opens up. That's where the environmental field has come to. Local placed-based, hands on. I learn from her all the time."
"She was my high school oceanography teacher," said First Selectman Peter Tesei. "She showed me things wet and slimy." Tesei held up a lesson from his Sue Baker school days showing a man in a boat with the message, "Don't Splash your Trash."
"To get the attention of children she sits down and looks comfortable," said Chris Franco, president of the Greenwich Point Conservancy. "Susie was the co-founder of the Greenwich Point Conservancy. There's nothing we've accomplished without her."
"She's the energy bunny queen," said State Senator Scott Frantz, a neighbor of Sue's in Riverside. "She doesn't sleep, either. She chased the rats off Greenwich Point."
Former State Senator Bill Nickerson met Sue 25 years ago. He likened Sue to "the light shining over the Sound." "When I stumble the light blinks. As the Irishman said, `You take my meaning?'"
"Did you hear," said one woman near Frantz, "Sue said she'd known my husband since he was a fetus!"
"With Sue," said jazzman Bennie Wallace, "Any time you think you know about things you learn something else. She's so dedicated to the community with all her volunteering with so many generations of students. She's still doing it. She does all her roles with fabulous energy. That's why we're here to salute her."
More than once Sue was said to be ageless. "Your youthfulness is remarkable," said Frantz to Sue in his salute. "You've said -- `I'm never going to grow up.'
"You should be in a hospital study for people who are doing well," friend and fellow conservationist John Nelson told Sue.
"If you take a walk on the beach with Susie," said son-in-law Ed Keller, "She's `oh look at this' and `look at that' -- you don't get much exercise."
"We're somehow connected at the hip," said Dan Barrett, who taught natural science alongside Baker for years at GHS, then took his teaching to the Greenwich Land Trust. "We bought a van, we traveled (and taught) everywhere in it, even to the Virgin Islands." Sue prides herself on knowing her scientific names. "She knows the sex life of her organisms inside and out."
"Dan and I raised 100 teenagers every day in and day out," said Sue in her closing remarks. She told of her one requirement of her students to memorize the following poem: "In the end we will conserve only what we love./We will love only what we understand./We will understand only what we are taught."
Coached by Cookie Thomas, the crowd sang their final salute: "If you knew Susie like I knew Susie. Oh, Oh, Oh, What a girl... But what they should have sung is Susie's true theme song from South Pacific: "You've got to be taught/From year to year/It's got to be drummed/in your dear little ear/You've got to be carefully taught."
Postcript: At the roast Len Miller of SoundWaters announced the creation of the Sue Baker Educational Fund for marine biology and environmental education, to be co-chaired by Baker and Miller. With a goal of $100,000, to start Miller said that $20,000 had already arrived from an anonymous donor. A solicitation of funds from the crowd brought a quick $55,000 to add to the $20,000.