By Lex McMillan

Rita Baker was a bright light that shone at the Adams Rescue Mission as a volunteer and staff member for forty years.  Now 94, she recently visited the Mission to see old friends and former colleagues.  Affection and gratitude were evident in the faces of all who welcomed her.

She was already volunteering in the Mission’s Thrift Shop when Executive Director Bruce Dietrick came to ARM in 1983.  Dietrick quickly saw her talents and offered her a full-time position as the first Director of Family Ministries.  She was his first hire.  He says he saw the Holy Spirit in her gift of “discernment,” her good judgment and ability to touch the hearts of those who came to the Mission seeking help.  She also brought administrative skill to her work.  Although she could connect with ARM’s clients, she demonstrated “tough love” that challenged those in need to take greater responsibility for their lives.

When ARM opened the first Agape House to serve homeless women and children, Dietrick made her its first director.  He recalled an incident when she had a “bad feeling” about a single woman living at Agape House and persuaded Dietrick to come with her to check on the woman.  When they knocked on the door of her room, there was no response.  They opened the door to find the woman lying naked and unconscious on the floor barely breathing.  She had overdosed on heroin.  With the help of emergency services, she was rescued.  Dietrick is certain that Rita saved her life.

Dietrick recalls her broadening his understanding of necessities when a woman came to ARM in need of a television.  He questioned whether this qualified as a necessity—like beds and other basic home furnishings.  Rita argued that the woman had six children.  Dietrick got the point and with her help came to see curtains and prints for the walls were essential to everyone’s desire for beauty in their homes.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, the only child of a printer and his wife, she was a child of the Great Depression and recalls moving frequently as her father looked for work. She attended six different high schools.  She recalls hungry men coming to their door.  Although they had little, her mother always made them a sandwich.  She vividly recalls the attack on Pearl Harbor and all the uncertainties of World War II.

She married in 1953 and traveled widely with her husband, who was an electrical engineer employed by the U.S. government working on radar.  She fondly recalls living in Reykjavík, Iceland, and traveling around Europe before they moved to Littlestown with their three young sons.

Dietrick said “empathy” was her greatest gift.  A cancer survivor, she connected with the lost and lonely but also became an always cheerful “Mom” figure for her ARM colleagues.  She was a “healer,” Dietrick said.  “She touched a lot of lives with grace abounding.”

The Adams Rescue Mission exists to proclaim the passion of Jesus toward the hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted; to accelerate recovery and restoration to the least, last, lonely, and lost.  Lex McMillan is a board member of ARM.

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