Cedar Key Family celebrates generations

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By Kellie Parkin

Lillian Kathleen Bishop Baker, known simply as “Great” by her many descendents, celebrated her 85th birthday last weekend, surrounded by generations of family at the Cedar Key City Park.


Kathleen greeted well-wishers sporting a name tag that read, “Great.”

“All the grandchildren call her that,” said her daughter Rita Bishop. “Great” seems an appropriate word to describe the octogenarian: great grandmother Kathleen is the matriarch of a great big family that traces its ties to Cedar Key for a great many generations.

Born and raised in Cedar Key, Kathleen was delivered at the Bishop homestead by her grandmother and mid-wife Suzanna Bishop in 1924. She currently lives in the homestead that has been in her family for seven generations.

Kathleen was married to the now deceased Robert A. Baker for nearly 50 years. A veteran of World War II, Robert was an Army infantryman until a parachuting accident that broke both of his legs. After the accident he worked in public relations for the Army.

Kathleen gave birth to six children, three girls and three boys: Rita Baker, Dottie Haldeman, Kathy Ann Kaim, Fredrick Baker of Mississippi, Joseph Baker and Howard Baker who is deceased. All her children had at least one child. Now many of those grandchildren have children.

“There are so many, it gets hard to keep track of them,” she smiled as her great grandchildren played ball, climbed trees, and ran about the park.

More than 60 loved ones representing four generations turned out for the party. A giant three by 10 foot birthday banner hung on the pagoda wall for people to sign.

Homemade dishes like palm heart casserole, chicken pot pie, goulash and five birthday cakes made a lunch of plenty for birthday celebrants.

All family February birthdays were honored at the party: Kathleen’s great-granddaughter Jacqueline Elizabeth Jones, daughters Rita Baker and Kathy Ann Kaim, Kyrah, and Brad Jones (Jacqueline’s father).

The large family hasn’t celebrated the birthdays like this in at least nine years. “And the last time wasn’t nearly this big,” said Bonnie Smith Jones, who organized her grandmother’s party. “We decided that we needed to do something big because of the three milestones reached this year. We have a new teenager, a 60-year-old, and of course 85.”

Bonnie surveyed the crowd, asking everyone to write names, special dates, and family information on index cards in an effort to build a family tree. “We need to get all of the information together in one place,” Bonnie said.

Freddy Kaim, Kathleen’s grandson, said the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of his Great is her tenacity and strength. “She’s a tough old thing,” he said. “I remember being a kid and her working hard – oystering during the day and shucking them at night.”

Another grandson, Aaron Haldeman, remembers the same. “She’d go out in the boat, and then come home to shuck. She’d shuck two or three and then eat one.”

Freddy and Aaron laughed at Kathleen’s sense of humor, as well. “She’s a prankster,” Aaron said. “She got it from her mom – Grammy.”

He told the story of one Halloween when Kathleen spent weeks collecting acorns and then handed them out by the handfuls to the trick-or-treaters. “She went down to the post office the next day and listened to people complain about them. She never said anything, just listened and laughed,” Aaron said.

Watching wrestling on TV used to be Aaron’s favorite pastime with his grandma. “Now I like to stop by and listen to her stories,” he said. “She remembers everything like it was yesterday. And she tells it so well that you can see it in front of you.”

Aaron added that he was happy Kathleen’s health allowed him the honor of a dance with her at his wedding last August.

Kathleen visited with well-wishers, exchanging hugs, smiles, and memories.

Kathleen remembers when goods were shipped by rail on trains that arrived pulling only four or five cars. “It’s the only way supplies were shipped back then,“ she said. “So much has changed.” She’s watched Cedar Key go from a small fishing village where everyone knew each other to becoming a major tourist attraction and the United State’s biggest producer of clams. She’s lived through the Great Depression, the electrification of rural America, the first commercial airplane, the first television, the first man on the moon, and the invention of microwave ovens, computers and cell phones.

“I’ve seen a lot happen in my life time. It’s amazing to think what’s happened in 85 years. What’s going to happened in 85 more? I’d love to see.”