Conrad Baker spent 45 years cleaning inside Methodist Hospital. But after he retired in 2008, he just couldn’t stay away. And so, Baker applied for a job and came back to work at Methodist – the place he loved.
Conrad Baker had been doing little jobs, those odds-and-ends types of gigs to make a living.
Cleaning the lint out of machines in the Laundromat. Firing up coal furnaces to keep them running.
Until one day, his stepdad said to him: “Mr. Conrad, why don’t you go up to that Methodist Hospital? You might get hired over there.”
Baker walked all those blocks to the front door of Methodist that day in 1963. He went inside, right up to the desk at the hospital’s main entrance.
“I asked them, ‘Did they have any openings?’” Baker says. “Would you know? They hired me the first day.”
That was 55 years ago that Baker was hired as a housekeeper. And for decade upon decade, Baker cleaned with a good attitude and a wonderful work ethic.
He cleaned so many nooks and crannies inside Methodist, he knew the hospital better than, perhaps, just about anyone.
When he retired in 2008 – after 45 years at Methodist — Baker was a housekeeper in the emergency department.
When he left, there were so many tears. People just adored Baker. And he adored every single one of them.
“I just love people,” says Baker. “Be kind, regardless of how they treat you.”
But something incredible happened when Baker walked away from Methodist.
He realized he couldn’t.
Three years later, he was back at the hospital – asking again if they had any openings.
“Mr. Conrad Baker. He is a gentle soul,” says Kathy Hendershot, director of nursing operations, overseeing the ED and behavioral health, at Methodist, “who loves this place.”
Here Baker was in his late 60s, typing up a résumé. The rules had changed a bit in 2011, compared to 1963.
He couldn’t just walk up to the front door of Methodist and land a job. But Hendershot caught wind that Baker wanted to come back to work at the hospital.
And if anyone had the experience and a proven track record to land a job there, it was Baker.
“You won’t have to do cleaning anymore,” Baker recalls Hendershot telling him.
No, he would be a stock clerk. For Baker, that means making sure the ED is stocked with enough wheelchairs and cots.
In a hospital, wheelchairs are a coveted commodity. They are known to disappear.
Each day, when Baker starts his 4-hour shift at 8 a.m., he checks to see how many wheelchairs are in his department. He likes to try to keep about 20.
“Sometimes, I get them in there and then as fast as I get them in there somebody takes them,” he says.
And so Baker spends much of his three days a week at Methodist scouring the hospital for wayward wheelchairs.
Sometimes, when a nurse or secretary in a unit sees Baker coming to search?
“They give me a hard time,” he says. “There’s that wheelchair thief.”
Of course, Baker always asks before he takes any wheelchair – to make sure it doesn’t belong to a patient.
He’s good at hunting them down. But he also has some help. After all, Baker has been at the hospital more than 50 years. People know him.
Employees will see Baker and tell him a place they spotted a wheelchair. Others will bring chairs in for him that have been left in a parking garage.
“It’s just a nice environment to work in,” Baker says. “To work around people you love.”
More with Mr. Baker
Personal: He is married to Rosemary, whom he met in 1964 at Methodist. She was in housekeeping, too. “She was a tough cookie,” he says. When Rosemary left the hospital, they lost touch for 30 years but then had a chance meeting on a city bus and reconnected. They have been married 25 years.
Outside of Methodist: Baker is a lead singer in his choir at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and also a member of the men’s chorus. In addition to being involved in church, Baker and his wife like to hunt down deals at garage sales, travel and spend time with their kids, grandkids and great grandkids.
Fun fact: He grew up in an apartment building located on West 10th Street. That location is now the site of IU Health’s Fairbanks Hall.
— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.