The above photo was published in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review on April 10, 1975, and shows Grand Rapids High School hockey star Bill Baker signing his National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Minnesota to play hockey. Watching the brief ceremony are mother Bev Baker, father Bill Baker and uncle Joe Waleski. Seated with Baker is Herb Brooks, coach at the University of Minnesota.

(Ed. note: This story was probably written by Ken Hickman and was published in the Feb. 28,1980, edition of the Herald-Review.)

Over 1,200 people swelled the Grand Rapids High School Gym Wednesday afternoon to welcome home a bona fide hero: Bill Baker.

Baker played defense on the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic hockey team and put the team on the right track in the first game against Sweden, when he fired a 55-foot slap shot goal with 27 seconds remaining to give the Americans a 2-2 tie in first-round action.

Grand Rapids belonged to Bill Baker on Wednesday. Welcoming signs were up in store windows. His welcome was the only talk on the street.

The crowd gave the 23-year-old Grand Rapids man a standing ovation when he entered the gym with his parents, Bev and Bill Baker and sisters Carol and Mary. (Sister Bev is a cheerleader).

It was a joyous homecoming for Baker who led the Grand Rapids Indians to the state high school championship and the University of Minnesota to a national championship. Named an All-American, Baker was also captain of the University team.

“It’s great to be back in Grand Rapids,” Baker told the crowd of admirers. “They say you’re a product of your environment and I truly believe that.”

One of the most touching moments of the Games was when he found his mother at the arena and lifted her over the glass, he said. Tears were streaming down her face after the big win. Baker kissed her. “It just exemplified the mood at the time,” he said.

The Olympics was “just another world” and the team did not realize the impact winning the gold medal would have on the U.S., Baker said. The reception has been great, he said, noting a visit with President Carter and a parade in Minneapolis.

“Whenever you go back to your hometown, it means just a bit more to a man,” he said.

He paid thanks to his family and uncle and aunt Joe and Ruth Waleski and the support he received in school from his coaches and others.

In an ironic note, Baker remembered the only time he was stopped in Grand Rapids by police was by officer Tom Roy. That was when he was a sophomore. Roy picked Baker up Wednesday to take him to the celebration.

Neil Erickson of the VFW presented the Olympian with a flag, and council members Vern Sackett gave Baker a key to the city. Sports boosters gave him a rod and reel. Superintendent Jim Sauter gave Baker video tapes of the games.

Long-time hockey supporter Bill McDonald gave Baker a collection of photos that detailed his career. George Gardner of the Jaycees gave Baker a plaque citing him as an outstanding young man.

Speakers Dick Rohloff, who emceed the program, Wayne Cole, who was Baker’s Bantam coach, Bob DeGrio who coached in him Peewees, coach Jim Hernesman and coach Gus Hendrickson who coached Baker in high school, spoke of the win, the Games and the unique qualities that set Bill apart from the rest.

What they were all saying and what the crowd felt was this: Bill, we’re proud of you.”


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