Herman Baker: Educator, entrepreneur, friend

Sandra ClarkFountain City, Obits

Most folks send their kid to college with the expectation that they will pay rent – either for a dorm room or an apartment. Herman Baker made plans to buy a house in Memphis when his son John entered medical school there. He had figured a way to make money with favorable tax laws and the ultimate appreciation of the house. I’ll bet he at least broke even.


Herman was a teacher and principal in the old city school system and later for Knox County Schools. He and Leo Cooper were friends and business partners – both educators, both interested in politics and real estate.

Baker managed Cooper’s campaigns for Knox County Commission and an ill-fated race against Allen Morgan for school superintendent when Earl Hoffmeister retired – the winner would be our final elected KCS chief before state law forced appointed superintendents. Morgan won.

But Leo and Herman just moved to their next adventure. They assembled parcels on the southwest corner of Jacksboro and Tazewell pikes at Sanders Drive. The former Smithwood Drug Store was problematic, with limited parking and little-to-no setback. The partners could not have gotten a building permit for a new restaurant, but they could get a permit to remodel.

Herman was the on-site building manager. That remodel project was extensive – some might say Herman cleared the site of everything but the slab. And the restaurant Leo’s came to be.

I’m not sure if the Bakers got the Coopers involved with the candle-making business in Fountain City, but Herman and Pat worked many hours there after school. Who knew candle-making was so hot and smelly?

The Bakers moved to Jackson, Tennessee, to be closer to both sons, John and Jim, their wives and ultimately nine grandchildren. We’ve missed them in Fountain City, and now Herman Baker has died, at age 83. Funeral services are set for Saturday, June 5, 2021, in Jackson. Read more about his life and legacy here.

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