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A St Mary's Treasure for 43 Years!

Forty-three years ago, in 1954, Miss Alice Baker of Oak Street came to Feltwell to care for her father at the death of her mother. Soon after, she was elected to the Parochial Church Council. She served continuously, with terms as secretary and Churchwarden, until last month (June 1997) when she retired. She still continues her duties as sacristan and scripture reader, in addition to being a weekly volunteer for church open-hours. After 13 years as secretary, she was elected as the first woman Churchwarden of St Mary's and one of the first in the Diocese. For a while, she continued as both Secretary and Warden, but found both duties too demanding. She remembers asking her fellow Warden, Mr George Lawrence, whether he minded serving with a woman. He was amused at the question and assured her he didn't mind at all. They served together for more than 20 years until his death a few years ago. Miss Baker retired as Churchwarden in 1994.

Church congregations were much larger in the 1950's and 1960's and average Sunday attendance was almost 100. There were two services each Sunday - one in the morning and another in the evening. Baptisms were held in the afternoon. Churchwardens attended all the services, including weddings and funerals. Miss Baker would take a week's break each June and Mr Lawrence would take a week off each September. Except for these times, one or both of them were at every function of St. Mary's. When asked what the hardest part of her job was as Warden, Miss Baker said that not any part of it was hard. She did, however, endure five interregnums, and said that the Diocese seemed to have different rules for each one. Interregnums are busy times for wardens, for they are required to take over the duties of the vicar and ensure that services and functions continue.

Miss Baker was born on 3d February 1906 in North Elmham and was raised in Oxwich, near Colkirk, for a time and then moved to Rougham, Norfolk. She is the oldest of five children of a farming family, who maintain Feltwell connections. Her brother Edward was manager at Weasenham Farms for many years and is now retired in King's Lynn. Their parents retired to a house on Oak Street to be near Edward, and this is where Miss Baker moved in 1954. Her sister, Ada, joined her there upon retirement from the Dr Barnardo's Homes. Her brother Charles lives in Western Close. Her other brother was killed in the Second World War,

Desiring to be a schoolteacher, Miss Baker won a scholarship for college, but was unable to obtain a grant for living expenses. Her career was spent mostly as a carer and cook. Prior to coming to Feltwell., she lived in Haslemere, Surrey and then Rutland. In Feltwell, she worked as a batwoman at the Group Captain's home for 10 years. During her tenure there, the camp transitioned from the RAF to the USAF.

Miss Baker still enjoys needlework and gardening. Cycling was her favorite pastime until she fractured her leg a few years ago. She would cycle all about the countryside visiting friends in other communities, regularly riding to Brandon over the heath. She especially enjoyed the woods, often stopping to gather kindling.

She delivered the parish magazine to all outlying areas - the waterworks, the Hythe and distant farms. For her 70th birthday, the PCC gave her a new bicycle to assist in these deliveries. Then about 4 or 5 years ago, while shopping in Bury St. Edmunds, she fell and bumped her head and had to stop cycling for a few weeks. Then she got on her bike, did some shopping and went for a ride in the woods on a beautiful February day to see the snowdrops and anemones. Becoming tired, she couldn't lift her knees high enough and pitched over and broke her leg. This stopped her cycling, but hasn't slowed her down much. For many years, she did parish visiting every afternoon. seeing all the sick and lonely in the parish. She still does some, but not as much as previously. A few years ago, upon retiring as Churchwarden, her retirement gift was intended to help her visit her niece in New Zealand - but she has been too busy to go.

One of Miss Baker's many remarkable characteristics is her elegant diction. When asked how she developed it, she was nonplussed at first. Any who hear her speak or read scripture in church usually assume she has had special training in elocution. Not so it turns out, as she attributes her mother's insistence that all of her children speak correctly. No 'loose' or improper speech was allowed. When a young woman in her first job. Miss Baker joined the Girls Friendly Society and quickly won first prize in their reading aloud contest. She has been reading scripture at St Mary's for 43 years, and until a rota was set up a few years ago, would read the epistle every Sunday.

It would be a rare Feltwell family who has not been touched by Miss Baker's ministrations over the years. She has comforted and visited thousands personally and of course her tenure as Churchwarden saw that St Mary's continued to be a supportive presence in the village. The Parochial Churcg Council will be expressing its thanks to Miss Baker soon, but I'm certain that if anyone were to stop by the Church on a Tuesday afternoon, she would delight in visiting with you.

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