By Wayne Schutsky
At 95, Sam Baker proved that you are never too old to embark on a new career.
The Marine veteran has had a number of jobs in his lifetime – from working at the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey to becoming one of the world’s first GPS salesmen.
Now he can add published author to that list, thanks to the help of his daughter, Gilbert resident Sally Baker.
Sam embarked on his “fifth career” as a children’s book author this year with The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm.
Sally runs her own public relations firm, Great Ideas PR, and has promoted authors and books in the past, though she admits this project holds a special place in her heart because of the personal connection.
She helped her father put the book together and promote it, though that is not the only influence she had on its creation. Her role in making The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm come to life actually dates back to her childhood.
The book was inspired by the stories the author used to tell Sally and her brother, Michael, over four decades ago and centers on the friendship between a young girl named Petunia and Herman, a mishap-prone tomato worm that speaks perfect English.
Due to Herman’s odd traits – he has arms, hands and can talk – he is not readily accepted by everyone who crosses his path. However, he soon develops a close friendship with Petunia and her family, who support him throughout his journey.
Sam Baker, retired and living in Scottsdale, used the story to emphasize the values he learned as a child. “The story shows that people should accept you for who you are and not try to change you,” he says.
The book also reinforces the importance of courtesy and respect for elders.
For many years, the story of Herman the Worm was little more than a family memento, first created by Sam over 40 years ago when his family lived in Florida during his time with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
He came up with the tale after his kids asked their father to make up a unique story. “When the children were small, they asked me to tell them a story instead of reading books, so I created a story around Herman the Worm,” he says.
For inspiration, Baker turned to his own childhood in Mississippi. His father was a farmer and grew dill in the backyard to make pickles in the summer. The dill plants attracted parsley worms, which are actually caterpillars, which caught the young Sam Baker’s attention.
“There were worms the size of your finger that would be on there,” he says. “I would wait until they were full grown and then put them into shoebox, feed them dill until they went into pupa stage and then they became black swallow-tailed butterflies.”
Baker first put the stories down on paper in the early 1990s and even got a copyright in 1994. Still, at the time, he never expected the story would become a published book.
“It was just to give out to people,” he says. “I gave a copy to my dental hygienist who had 6-year-old son, and she said he cried at the end because he didn’t want Herman to go away.”
Baker picked the story back up a few years ago when he got a computer, and he credits his children for encouraging him to create the book. “I just let it linger until the children got me busy and told me to get off my duff and get busy and put it into book form,” he says.
In addition to his children’s role in making the book happen, Sally’s close friend Ann Hess provided the illustrations. “It really is a family affair,” Sam says.
Fast-forward a few years and the book is now available in digital and physical forms through Amazon and other retailers, and Sally and Sam Baker are in the midst of planning a nationwide book tour to promote it. They also plan to donate some of the proceeds from book sales to a butterfly sanctuary.
With The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm complete, Sam is not quite ready to move on from his fifth career, though. He has plans to publish another story titled What, the Mouse. That book is written but does not yet have illustrations.
Sam also is not closing the door on the possibility that he may continue to chronicle the stories of Petunia and Herman the Worm. On Herman’s future, he says, “that depends on whether or not the readers want it.”