Downtown developer, Mark Baker, passes from heart attack

Mark A. Baker, 55, of Shirland died Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, in Rockford Memorial Hospital. (Photo provided)

Mark A. Baker: March 31, 1956-Oct. 21, 2011

Mark A. Baker, 55, of Shirland, Ill. died Friday Oct. 21, 2011, in Rockford Memorial Hospital.

Born March 31, 1956, in Oak Park, Ill. the son of Mr. and Mrs. James and Velma (Mirabelli) Baker. Mark has lived 20 years in Shirland, Ill. coming from Oak Park, Ill. He is the owner of Sports and Specialty, Inc., and managing member of Urban Equity Properties in Rockford, Ill. He is a member of Friends of Ziock (FOZ).

FOZ’s Don Bissell wrote: “FOZ has lost an enthusiastic and meticulous worker, a charter ‘friend [of Ziock]’ and a good friend Friday evening. Mark Baker was not only thoroughly dedicated to our cause, he was heading up the Marketing Team and spending untold hours crafting the marketing materials as we prepare to go ‘live’ with our campaign.

Not only that, we’ve learned within the last few hours that, unbeknownst to us, he’d recruited a cadre of his family members to help. Kathy and son Zach not only knew of Mark’s passion for the downtown, but had been lending a hand behind the scenes.”

Survivors include sons: Zachary M. (Melinda) Baker of Rockton, Ill., Jackson T. Baker of Shirland, Ill.; granddaughter Alaina Baker and one to come; Kathryn Baker of Shirland, Ill.; long-time business partner Justin Fern. Predeceased by parents.

Rockton Township Trustee and political activist Dean Mohring said of Baker: “A man of integrity. A high-quality individual with business acumen, interested in government that was not corrupt. A very good friend who I’ll sorely miss.”

Baker’s parents would have been very proud of him, as are his friends,” said The Rock River Times’ Editor & Publisher Frank Schier. “He had real character and courage. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to anyone and call them on the carpet. Even his opponents respected him. Ask Rep. Dave Winters, Rockton Mayor Dale Adams, or anyone in the Nicolosi Law Firm. As a businessman, he could restore a bathtub Porsche, a Victorian apartment or a collapsing brick building, with high-quality work and at a profit. He just worked very hard and quietly, never seeking the spotlight; in fact, he avoided it. I admired him. Both of us have been known to be ornery and disillusioned at times. Living with the system around here, guess why. I had fun arguing and trading insults with him too infrequently, and I will miss his sharp wit. He had a great grin.

His departure is a great loss for the area; however, he mentored Justin Fern from when Fern was only 15 and taught him well,” Schier added. “I saw and I’m sure that Mark had great faith in Justin and his sons, Jack and Zach. Those young men will do very well moving forward Mark’s legacy and dreams.”

Fern and Baker restored or are restoring many buildings downtown, including: 321 W. Jefferson, lofts and commercial space; 110-112 N. First St., lofts and commercial space; 327 W. Jefferson St., MSG Graphic II Building/Adriatic Night Club; 317 Market St., art galleries and lofts; 408-414 E. State St., Metropolitan Hall Project; 1270 N. Main St., El Dorado Apartments; several two-flat apartments in the North End area, as well as commercial and residential properties in the South Beloit area.

Fern said of Baker: “His passing is a huge loss to the downtown development. He’s the most honest and loyal person I’ve ever done business with. He was a great friend and mentor. Urban Equities will continue to develop the downtown area.”

Funeral ceremonies to be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, in McCorkle Funeral Home, 767 N. Blackhawk Blvd., Rockton, Ill., with Pastor Cory Williams of Central Christian Church in Beloit, Wis., officiating. Burial will be in Shirland Township Cemetery. A visitation will be held at the funeral home from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26. A memorial is being established.

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue

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