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Road may honor Baker

by Alecia Warren
| November 9, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE -They have the street, brand new and freshly paved.

They have the name. A worthy one, too, that could inspire any driver that navigates its length.

They just need to hammer out the other details.

The Kootenai County commissioners were poised on Monday to name a new road north of Hayden after Vernon Baker, the Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran from St. Maries who passed away this summer.

But the officials decided to wait, so county staff could ensure the road meets all the code requirements.

"It's a good idea. It should've been done while he was still alive," said Commissioner Rick Currie. "Where I do have a problem is I think the whole thing should be named that (after Baker)."

Hayden resident Alan Golub had proposed the street to christen as Vernon J. Baker Boulevard, currently a nameless frontage road just completed off Lancaster Road.

As the commissioners learned, the road is actually an extension of Warren Street in the city of Hayden.

The only part the commissioners have authority to name is the new section, which stretches between Lancaster and Bentz roads on unincorporated county land.

The commissioners were wary of that detail.

"We don't want to perpetuate another changing road name," said Commissioner Todd Tondee.

But Golub assured that at least all extensions of the road on county land would bear Baker's name.

"It will always be one name in the county," he said.

Getting the road renamed in Hayden is an option, but a tricky one.

This would require a petition signed by 75 percent of property owners along Warren Street before the City Council could vote on the matter, said Lisa Key, the city's community development director.

The businesses Golub discussed this with were resistant to the expenses and confusion that go with a new address.

"It's a process," he said.

Commissioner Rich Piazza supported naming what they could after Baker.

"For the people who fought and died for all the freedoms we enjoy, we need to honor them at every chance we can," he said.

Golub, whose own father served in World War II, had thought naming a street after Baker would be an appropriate gesture after the hero passed in July.

When he heard about the frontage road that was to be built across property he owns, he approached Lakes Highway District with his idea.

"I think it's a wonderful story about a community coming together," he said, adding that he and several other individuals donated their properties for the road.

The new road was constructed by the Idaho Transportation Department. It will be turned over to Lakes Highway District in upcoming weeks.

Baker's widow, Heidi Baker, said she would travel down to see it, if the street takes Baker's name.

"That would make me so happy. It would honor my husband so greatly," she said, speaking over the phone in St. Maries on Monday.

Baker was the last living African-American Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. He received the nation's highest award for valor from President Bill Clinton in 1997, 52 years after he led a two-day assault as a lieutenant against an Italian stronghold occupied by Germany and secured it for American forces.

Baker died of cancer July 13 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The commissioners did not set a date to vote on the naming.

Currie hopes Hayden property owners change their minds about renaming the rest of the road in Hayden, he said.

"It's a small price to pay to honor this guy," Currie said.

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