Suzi Baker was born in Gary, Indiana, and moved to Jacksonville with her parents when she was 15 years old.
Baker says she met a Navy man when she was 19 years old, and married him six weeks later.
“We moved to Oregon where we lived for the next 22 years, and where I mostly raised my family. I came back one day; I just wanted to come home. I came back with the kids, except for my oldest, who stayed with his daughter,” she said.
According to Baker, her husband worked on boats and used that as an opportunity to start a business.
“He had a bad back, so he started a boat-repair company. He worked on diesel engines and he couldn’t do that no more. So he put an ad on Craigslist doing boat repair. It took off the first day,” she said. “ It was mobile, which Jacksonville really needed. There was a lot of boats lined up, waiting to get fixed in the middle of summer. You couldn’t go fishing, so we nailed that right away.”
Baker says the business tripled every year until her husband died of a heart attack three years ago, so she was forced to shut the business down immediately.
“He was the business. I would handle the phone call, schedule appointments, maybe hold a flashlight or something,” she said.
Baker says she and her four children moved in with her sister, and she was able to rebuild her life with the help of a bigger family.
She says that she and her sister hadn’t talked in five years, but her sister was ready to help her immediately.
“She was a single mom, and we were going to raise all six kids together. She made me get up every morning and take a shower. I knew that with me, I would either gain weight or I needed to lose weight. Fortunately, I wasn’t hungry for a while, and I went with it. I thought it was a gift. I lost 70 pounds,” Baker said. “It took me six months. I just got myself together, and I got stronger, and I got my own place. I went back to waitressing, which got me back into the restaurants. It just got me going in the direction I needed to go.”
Baker says she has had many jobs around the food and beverage industry over the years, and says she recently accepted a job at an assisted living facility as a chef.
She mentioned that she used to cook in a retirement home, and said that it was the best job she’s ever had where the people are happy to see you.
Baker says that when she was applying for jobs in Jacksonville, everyone wanted a chef. She said, “When I applied for this one, I included a letter that said, ‘Look, I’m not a chef, but I’m a cook, and a good one. I just need a chance.’ I was called in for an interview and hired the next day!”
“I had a hot dog cart in Oregon for the weekends that my husband built for me. I was a foster mom and needed to get out of the house for a while each week,” she said. “So I went from being Hot Dog Lady to being a chef, that's a pretty good career move.”
Baker admits that she's a long way from getting over the loss of her husband, and may not ever completely get over it. But that's the direction in which she's headed, and progress is measured in small steps.
She says, “Never give up, never. You never know what tomorrow will bring.”