The tireless John Baker grew up in rural New Zealand, became one of our early graduates and proceeded to take on the rest of the world.
At 89 years of age, pre-Ardmore Engineering alumnus John Baker still exhibits the wit and intelligence that led him across the world in a varied and exciting career in civil engineering.
John grew up on a farm in rural Auckland, left school at 16, and enrolled in Pukekohe Technical College with hopes of becoming a motor mechanic. The course required students to complete a unit in engineering, and it was here that John’s love for the subject was born. Upon realising the metalwork and carpentry aspects of mechanics wasn’t for him, John asked to be transferred to the academic version of the course, and spent early mornings studying algebra, geometry, and business.
After completing his diploma, his family moved to Middlemore and John began his final year at Otahuhu College, where he was inspired by a teacher’s passion for Maths and Physics. Armed with Mr Thompson’s teaching, he proceeded to study Science and Engineering at the University of Auckland, and became the first in his family to complete a degree.
Then 17 years old, he undertook the first few years of his degree in “the old tin sheds”, the Strengths and Materials Labs on Alfred Street. This was before the University offered a full Engineering degree, so he spent some time at the University of Canterbury to complete the qualification. He graduated with his Civil Engineering degree in 1947, and Science degree the following year.
In his final year of study he met his wife, Laura, at the Papatoetoe Dance Hall. In spite of his original intentions of just making a brief appearance, Laura persuaded him to stay and tell him about his engineering degree. “I was the biggest flirt on Earth, but after I met him I didn’t want to go out with anyone else. It was as simple as that”, Laura confesses. Next year, the couple will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary.
He moved on to embark on an OE in Canada with the hope of getting the opportunity to build bridges. Having been unsuccessful in this endeavour, he was then employed by the Canadian National Railway, where he spent 18 months helping to build a line from Cranberry Portage to a nickel mine. This was followed by stints in civil engineering across the pond – four years building a railroad to Greenvale in Townsville, Australia, and a year in Brisbane in a consulting firm. Auckland then became their home for the following nine years as they raised their young family, with John working at the Council. Later, work took them to Christchurch, Wanganui, Wellington, and Perth.
These days, the couple are settling for good in Auckland, where they spent the last thirty years. Looking back, John had always been a farmer’s son who “certainly didn’t want to be getting up at 4am every morning for the rest of my life”, and his career and life so far has truly been a testament to the passion he has for engineering, the foundations that he built at this University, and a knack for seeking excitement in new opportunities.