Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Kimberlie Guerrieri
This article was originally published in the July 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. Click here to read the digital article and more from Coronado Magazine.
There are many reasons why people find themselves living in Coronado. But Aida Baker’s arrival story might be a first. In 1975 she came here on a simple errand and never left.
Aida Celestine Palange was born in Oakland, California, in 1921, to Italian immigrant parents. She was the youngest of five children. After graduating from Castlemont High School in 1939, she attended USC for a time before returning to her parent’s home back in Oakland.
It was there where she met her husband, Capt. James Ellis Baker. Twenty-two years her senior, he was a 1922 graduate of the Naval Academy and the Commanding Officer of the Oakland Naval Air Station at the time. They married in 1947 and together had two sons – Marvin and Tony.
After 31 years of active duty, James retired from the Navy in 1953 and took a position with McDonnell Douglas. When he retired for good in 1963, he wanted to move the family abroad so their young boys could learn another language. They considered Europe but decided on Guadalajara, Mexico. It was closer to Aida’s family in California, and it had an excellent international school.
In 1975, sons Marvin and Tony completed their education, and both found themselves returning state-side. Marvin was heading to Canada to finish his medical training. Tony, a talented guitarist, had joined a rock band. Aida and James decided to pack-up and follow their boys back to the United States. It was the start of yet another new chapter in their lives. While their sons knew where they were going, Aida and James did not. Their plan was to simply visit some cities near family and look for a new home.
And here comes that little errand I mentioned earlier. In anticipation of their move back to the states, Aida’s husband had their mail forwarded to an old Naval Academy buddy in Coronado. It was a convenient stop right across the border.
Aida had never been to Coronado, but the “charming city” was love at first sight. She still vividly recalls her first drive down Orange Avenue. The main drag pleased her. Turning to her husband, she said, “Jimmy, this is where I want to stop.” His reply? “OK, this is it then.”
With the help of his Naval Academy buddies on the island, they quickly found a home, and their wives graciously welcomed Aida into the Coronado community. They encouraged her to join one of the many clubs on the island. She was a member of several clubs over the years, but it was volunteering with the Sharp Coronado Hospital auxiliary where she found her true calling.
Over the next 35 years, Aida volunteered more than 10,000 hours and served as President of the auxiliary for two years. Her favorite thing in life was visiting patients in Coronado hospital and skilled nursing facilities conducting communion services for the Catholic residents. In 2010, she was honored by the Catholic Charities of San Diego for her decades of compassionate service. “I had a wonderful life,” Aida says, “doing the thing I like best – taking the host to the patients and residents.”
When her husband passed away in 1984, Aida stayed on in Coronado, continuing to be an active volunteer in our community and member of Sacred Heart Church. Oldest son Marvin Baker, MD, is a cardiologist in Pennsylvania. Son Tony is a guitar instructor in California. She also has relatives in Florida, but she wouldn’t want to live there because “Coronado is a charming place and its been kind to me.” She only wishes she would’ve bought a home here when she was a younger woman.
Aida has seen many changes on the island since 1975. Most notably, the knocking down of all the little one-room houses for two-story homes. She’s proud of the expansion and improvements at Sharp Coronado Hospital over the years, stating, “it’s pretty darn great as far as I am concerned.” And while the bridge was already here when she arrived, she was never a fan. It’s the only place she wouldn’t drive.
Today Aida is a popular resident of Coronado Retirement Village, where she recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Aida says 100 sounds “horribly old,” but she doesn’t feel it. What keeps her going is faith, family, friends, and, more recently, fitness. She works out regularly at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital.
Her advice for a happy long life? Read and keep the lord in your life, “don’t think you are greater than he is; it doesn’t work that way.” And pushups. She recommends starting when you are young or even if you’re already 100 years old. “It doesn’t matter. Just start now. It will keep you going.”
More photos of Aida Baker