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ALEXANDRIA, Va.-Ask NCUA Board Secretary Becky Baker why she’s retiring and she will tell you flat out, “My age for one thing.” The 17-year agency veteran will be retiring at the end of the month, just in time to plan her 70th birthday party. But retirement means something different for Baker than it does for many; it means she will be working six hours a day instead of 14. It also means she will be able to focus on the work that keeps her family’s legacy alive. Baker’s mother was a well-known author of children’s books, who received runner up in 1948 for “Best Children’s Book of the Year” for her work, A Certain Small Shepherd. She also won “Best Illustrated” for Pocketful of Cricket, based on an experience of Baker as a child. She explained that it takes a lot of work to maintain the copywrites and, being a lawyer, it naturally fell to her. Baker’s father also has published children’s books at the University of Illinois Library, which she keeps up on. In addition, her in-laws were in the oil business “in a very small way,” which Baker and her husband have since inherited. She added that they are currently in court in Texas because of poachers on the land and she experiences the same difficulties with her parents’ books. “But I enjoy that. It’s kind of legal work and its talking to people and negotiating. I like that,” Baker said. It also ties into her job at NCUA, she said. “It’s kind of like labor negotiations, but it’s better because, they all knew that by the board meeting they had to have things settled,” Baker explained. “And so you know it’s going to get settled. You don’t know when but you can relax because you know.it’s going to get settled.” With a grin, she admits that she enjoyed what others might have considered `the hard times’ with the board. “I must say I never met a board member I didn’t like,” Baker said. “Your job does change with every board member-not every chairman, even, every board member-because they all have different wants and needs, different personalities, but that makes the job interesting. I think I would have been bored long ago if it weren’t.” So what does the board secretary do? From an outsider’s point of view, one can observe Baker at the front of the board room with the board members on meeting days, ensuring the minutes are recorded properly, but what is she doing every other day of the month? “I think my principle job is making sure that the board complies with the Sunshine Act,” Baker says. “I know I’m a record keeper and this that and the other, but you always look at a job and you say `What if she didn’t do her job? What would happen?’ ” If she did not keep the records completely straight, that could be inconvenient, but they would eventually be found. “ But if the board didn’t comply with the Sunshine Act.I always felt that the board is the most public part of NCUA and if you have a board that gets into trouble, that reflects greatly on NCUA and that’s the fastest way to begin an agency’s demise,” she said. Baker has an office of two that helps her accomplish this, from ensuring the minutes for monthly board meetings are taken properly to preparing for a budget hearing or a board meeting to processing comment letters. Her office also helps prepare the agenda for the board meetings, which can include what Baker calls her “production manager” role of rehearsing AV presentations prior to the meeting. Then of course agendas can change and the board action memoranda can be amended after briefings and her office deals with that. Baker began her career advising public officials, including the Iowa governor and first lady. She also served as special assistant to a commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and prior to that, she worked as an executive assistant on the Hill for a couple of years for then-Senator Roger Jepsen, the future NCUA Board chairman. Baker had also been out of the work force for 22 years raising her three daughters. When asked whether it was a tough decision to put her career on hold, she answered, “No, I loved it.” She added that she enjoyed “doing all the domestic stuff. Sewing. Cooking. I do it all.” She had lived a high-pressure life prior to that and enjoyed staying home. Before having children, Baker had been attending law school, when she met her husband of 48 years on a blind date, and competing as a world-class runner. In 1956, she made an Olympic relay team “I didn’t mind the competition. I think law school was worse for me,” Baker admitted. After making the Olympic team, however, Baker was struck with pneumonia and laid up in the hospital. When she was released, Baker was not up to speed, and so an alternate took her place, “which is too bad because we might have gotten second in the relay instead of third.” Though Baker said she has never thought of herself as a real “fiery competitor,” she reminisced 48 years later, “But the girl who took my place I could beat by 10 yards on a good day and the Germans, who got second, I think we could have beaten them. I’ve seen pictures of that race and so that’s too bad.” She then decided to hang up her running shoes. Baker relayed that her neighbor’s mother, whose daughter had missed a spot on the Olympic swim team three times in a row by one slot, summed her feelings about that experience up best: “It’s something you never get over, but you go on.” Baker added, “And who knows? Maybe if I had run the race I would have dropped the baton and disgraced myself in front of the whole nation.” In 2002, Baker had the opportunity to carry the Olympic torch through Arlington, Va. before the opening of the Winter Olympics. She still exercises 30 minutes everyday. Though Baker has not been running recently, she does plan to start again after she retires. But first she must unpack. Baker and her husband of 46 years-who she said “fit me like a glove” on that first blind date and still does-are moving back to Champagne, Ill. where they both grew up. They also plan to keep a small home in Alexandria, Va. as well since two of her three daughters, one of which has two children of her own, live in the area. Her oldest daughter resides in Tucson, Ariz. Even in retirement, Baker may not disappear from the credit union arena entirely. She is very interested in financial literacy and said she thinks she will stay in touch with NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson, who has made it a priority of her chairmanship, on the subject. Baker also plans to work to get the credit union she joined at two-years-old to take her old high school under its wing. On leaving the agency, Baker stated, “I’ve always felt that I’ve been privileged to work in a place that’s part of a system that helps people, that I’m not here just making money. A lot of people when they retire, it seems to me, they feel guilty about all the money they have made and they haven’t really helped anyone but themselves and they feel like they have to do all this volunteer work. Well, I feel like I’ve been helping people all along and I think anyone in the credit union community can feel that way.” [email protected]times.com

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