May 17, 2013

The Baker Church Legacy at Northwood University

Northwood University lost a dear friend and lifetime supporter in Dr. Hannah Baker Church, who passed away on Sunday, May 12. Together with her husband Dr. John A. Church who predeceased her, Hannah played a pivotal role in the shaping and success of Northwood University, and will always remain a pillar of the Northwood family. 

Hannah’s first interaction with the then Northwood Institute came through founder Dr. Arthur E. Turner following our move from Alma to Midland. From that time forward, Hannah and John were endless supporters and promoters of the University, which worked hand-in-hand with another of their lifelong passions, the rise and development of the Midland community. 

While John succeeded in several endeavors including the Midland Advertising firm of Church & Guisewite; the Midland Chamber of Commerce; development director at Northwood University; and Wolverine Bank Board member, Hannah was a highly successful entrepreneur and business leader in her own right—and at a time when few women dared to be. Following the continuation of her father’s work at Baker Real Estate, Hannah later served as Director of Comerica Bank (formerly First Midland Bank), while leading and supporting a number of important civic endeavors. Her deep belief in the values of personal freedom and private enterprise informed and inspired her work, including her unending support of The Northwood Idea and our specialty business programs. 

Both Hannah and John served as mentors to our students, faculty and staff; funded a variety of programs and structures—including the Church Family Administration Building and William J. Baker Bell Tower (in honor of Hannah’s father) on our Michigan campus; and were role models for all who were fortunate to know them. Her love of Northwood is perhaps most evident in the encouragement she gave to others, especially her family members, to attend our University. 

Not content to rest on her laurels, Hannah’s sphere of influence expanded over time to include Northwood’s West Palm Beach campus and community, where she was very involved with the Florida Chapter of Friends of Northwood in support of our Seahawk students, faculty, and staff.  

As one might imagine, Northwood remained truly grateful for all Hannah did over the years, and endeavored to demonstrate that appreciation in various ways, including the following honors for Hannah: 

  • Silver Circle Awardee, Class of 1977
  • Distinguished Woman, Class of 1977
  • Honorary Doctorate, Class of 1990 (Hannah’s husband John also received an Honorary Doctorate, Class of 1986) 

But perhaps the greatest honor of Hannah’s life, following her family, is the impact she and her husband John had on the countless lives they influenced.

When a person’s epitaph is written, we rarely look at how they died. Instead, the focus is on how they lived. Hannah Baker Church, through her actions and activities, directly and indirectly impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Northwood University alumni over the decades. And when we consider the multiplier effect, Hannah will forever stand among the relatively small number of people who made the world a better place during their time here.

Although words can never fill the void, everyone in the Northwood University family extends our sincerest and deepest sympathies to the Baker Church family.

We would all do well to follow Hannah’s lead and enjoy the time we have on this earth.

Keith