BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Brian Baker lived a life filled with love, adventure, and giving of himself to others.
The former Traverse City resident and 1983 graduate of Traverse City Senior High School founded a successful nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay area to help the disabled through music therapy. Baker, 47, and his close friend, Adam Griffiths, perished in Hawaii Jan. 18 when they were swept into the Pacific Ocean by rogue waves on the Kauai shoreline.
"Brian always met you with a hug and a smile no matter what the circumstance," said Baker's friend, Peter Stoll, who grew up with Baker in Traverse City. "That really was the premise of Brian's life: projecting happiness, acceptance and a strong conviction towards personal growth. Those convictions really knew no conventional boundaries."
Baker was vacationing in Hawaii with friends when he climbed onto a lava rock area on the edge of the ocean. A wave swept him into the water, prompting Griffiths to climb down onto the lava rock to try and reach Baker. Griffiths was swept into the ocean, too.
Family members and friends said this week Baker was a free spirit and gifted musician who explored the limits of song. Baker could play guitar, percussion and electric Didgeridoo — an indigenous Australian wind instrument — all at once.
IndieGuitarists.com once named Baker their featured guitarist of the month, saying "Baker takes percussion techniques on the guitar to their logical extreme."
Baker obtained a degree in musical therapy from Michigan State University and used his musical talents to start the nonprofit Absolute Vibration. Family said one of Baker's passions was to use music and dance to assist autistic children. His work with the disabled once led a San Francisco news outlet to nominate Baker for a Hero of the Week award.
"That was always an interest of his even in college," said sister Rhonda Baker Lammers, owner of Elk Rapids Physical Therapy. "I know some of his internships were working with at-risk youths. He always felt he could help people ... he would use guitar and percussion in a group setting of kids. Sometimes it was one on one."
Baker's personal assistant, Linda Kiehnau, of California, said she recently called many of Baker's therapy clients and their parents to inform them of Baker's death.
She said one woman told a remarkable story of how Baker used music to help her son survive a life-threatening episode. The disabled child was in a wheelchair and fell down a flight of stairs. The boy was hospitalized, in intensive care, and Baker rushed to the hospital to play the child music.
"Brian would play his music, and all of (the child's) vital signs and numbers on the monitors got better," Kiehnau said. "Eventually he came out of it, and his mother really credits him for bringing him back."
Baker's sister, Renee Baker-Glezman of Mesick, told how her brother came to Northern Michigan to officiate her son's memorial service, and at the service, Baker read the poem "The Dash Between the Dates" by Linda Ellis.
"One of the sentences in the poem says, 'What matters most is how we live and love and how we spend our dash,'" Baker-Glezman said, adding "I now plan to read this same poem at one of his memorial services."
Baker's heart always stayed in Traverse City. He played football, track and field, swimming and diving in Traverse City as a youth. He returned regularly to Traverse City and often competed in the Cherry Festival 15K race.
"He called Pyramid Point the most beautiful place in the world," Baker Lammers said.
Memorial contributions are being accepted at "FBO Brian Baker" at Northwestern Bank in Traverse City. A memorial service will be held at a later date in Traverse City.