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Icy fingers of late January refuse to let go of Newport

Ray Baker relaxes at his Golf Course Road home on a wintery day in January 2014. He will
be 84 in May. For the past 40-plus years he has lived in Newport and has written two novels
and several short stories.
Published: 7:36 PM, 01/31/2014 Last updated: 11:31 AM, 02/03/2014

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside last week the late January storm clobbered our hometown with a cloud of dry crystal snow that may hang around until February, when the groundhog finally arrives Sunday to warm our souls.

Weíve been reducing office hours at the Plain Talk last week because of the weather that became severe Tuesday afternoon when school buses were scurrying to take children home. Wednesday morning was worse, as I had to travel to Morristown across Douglas Lake bridge and started swerving on the iced-over surface. Few folks were about except for utility and repair workers. Joe Keen had to arrive at the Plain Talk to get our heat cranked up. He came again Thursday and showed me how the ice was clogging the intake vent shutting down the gas furnace. We got a lot of phone calls from people wanting to know if carriers were delivering the Tuesday paper and they did attempt to do so but some areas were impossible to travel. I am always glad to know you miss the newspaper. Carriers are to be applauded for trying to deliver your paper in these conditions.


More about recycling programs


Letís finish our talk about Tim Berkel, executive director of Keep Cocke County Beautiful, before moving on to some recent visits Iíve had with writer William Ray Baker, and a three-war veteran from the 1940-1960s era who lives in Parrottsville.

Tim reminds me of many other successful people Iíve known who had a broad background in work and multiple skills. He has sold life and health policies, taught as an associate professor of international business at Carson-Newman College, is a marine consultant, and licensed general contractor to design and build log homes. He likes scuba diving, which explains why he swims a lot.

For those who know nothing about KCCB it is not just about planting flowers along the roads and daffodils at the community center. Primary concern is reducing litter, you know, all those bottles and trash along our highways, milk jugs floating in Douglas Lake, and such. Encouraging recycling, like you see at our convenience centers, is an important key program. Some of you already know that David Veridal is a super volunteer with KCCB. Sheriff Armando Fontes contributes by making many jail inmates available for litter pickup; the girls work on the litter crew, too, Iíve noticed.

Tim has gotten major corporations involved in helping Cocke County. Youíve seen photos in the Plain Talk of Loweís employees at work planting trees at schools. Solo Cup put up $3,000 for KCCB efforts. Coca-Cola donated many recycling receptacles at schools, parks, and athletic fields. The really big grant came from Tenn. Department of Transportation, which awarded only three $100,000-limit grants in the state. Tim and KCCB got a $91,000 grant to be used in local education efforts. Part of the plan is to produce a video on all the things children can and should do to protect the environment and beauty of these mountains.

Tim has been here since 2005, for after retirement he came to Newport and built a retirement home near Del Rio along the Old Fifteenth. His wife, Barbara, is also a New Englander. I think it important to know what is going on with Keep Cocke County Beautiful (KCCB). I am always impressed to find folks like Tim Berkel with experience and credentials from their careers in a variety of fields and then they use that knowledge to benefit our community and its citizens. During the recent old tire recycling project, I learned from Tim that you can take up to four tires per person to the landfill. So grab your old tires and take them to the landfill off old Asheville Highway. If you can fit three more people in the vehicle, add 12 more tires and have fun.


Novel of ages bygone


William Baker first contacted us late last year about his book Wrong Road to Eternity, which we are selling at the office. It is popular with readers and I picked it up to read too.

In the recent week Iíve gotten to know more about William Ray Baker, who just released his book Wrong Road to Eternity that is being sold at the Plain Talk. He is a child of the Great Depression, born in 1930. This is what he shared about how he came to publish the book. ďIn 1956 I had the urge to write and become friends with novelist Helen Topping Miller, who lived at Arrow Hill, an old pre-Civil War mansion located between Jefferson City and Morristown. One day after a long conversation, she bluntly told me if I were going to be a writer, I would have to do it myself. She couldnít do it for me.Ē So Bill (Ray) sent stories to a New York agent who returned them and politely told Bill he was a long way from being a writer. But this did not deter him as he kept writing and eventually got a letter from writer Evan Hunter, (Ed McBain, the police mystery series writer) who encouraged him to keep writing. This was at the time McBain wrote his first novel and was paid $500,000. Ray did not do any more serious writing until retiring from Newport Utilities.

Raised in New Market he watched his father, a big physical man, work in the zinc mines. George Baker, of Muddy Creek, married the former Bessie Dyle, a Dutch descendant of the Piedmont. The elder Baker worked in the zinc mines during the late 1930s and 1940s. Ray was able to get on at the Jefferson City mine when he was about age 20 and worked for two years, and he detailed for me some of his underground work.


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