The June C. Baker Red Hat Story
The June C. Baker Red Hat story started on Wednesday, September 10, 2003. The Mad Hatters of Shell Point, in full red and purple regalia, were having their monthly meeting and luncheon at the Green Flash, a delightful waterfront restaurant on Captiva Island in Southwest Florida. The ladies discovered and apparently discussed, rather vocally, that not a one of the group had been smart enough to bring a camera with which to document the occasion for posterity. Happily, a friendly gentleman from the next table overheard them and volunteered to take their pictures. They welcomed his offer, posed with great flourishes and chatted a bit with him and his wife. It was learned that the friendly photographer and his wife were visiting for a couple of days on Sanibel Island and enjoying a brief holiday. An address was shared so that the photos could be forwarded. That might have been the end of the story, but it wasn't... it was just the beginning.
A week later, Ann Hermann, the self-appointed scribe who had left her address with the friendly stranger, received a first letter from Archie Baker. Archie wanted her fellow Red Hatters to know that the roll of film had been a new one and that it would be a while before the pictures got developed and mailed to us. He went on to explain that June and he had been at the Moffitt Cancer Clinic in Tampa because of June's Multiple Myeloma and were enjoying a couple of days reprieve while en route to the Foshay Cancer Treatment Center in Jupiter where June would receive further treatment near their home in Palm Beach Gardens. June had been so excited about interacting with our group that she had been phoning relatives and friends to tell them of their "special lunch" when they met their first group of Red Hatters. In a postscript, Archie mentioned that June would be 55 on June 13th, "so she is a candidate to be a Red Hatter!"
That was the clue that got the Mad Hatters of Shell Point (Ft. Myers, FL) moving. A series of phone calls confirmed the desire of all members to make June one of their group; a Certificate of Membership was prepared, properly signed and mailed on Saturday, September 20, 2003. It proclaimed June C. Baker to be an Honorary Member of the Mad Hatters of Shell Point, Chapter #11594, of the Red Hat Society. Evelyn Sprague, Queen of the Mad Hatters, created a needlepoint name tag for June, as she had done for all of her other members, and it was in the mail shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, the Red Hat Society website was searched for a chapter near June's home that could welcome a new member. It was meant to be--contact was made with Jean Ann Duff, Queen of the Red Hat Garden Gabbies, on Friday, September 19th. She promptly went into action, "found" June and Archie, which wasn't easy, invited June to lunch at their next meeting, and helped to be sure that she had something red and something purple to wear at the luncheon. June's first meeting with the Garden Gabbies, on the East coast of Florida, was on Thursday, September 25th, just fifteen days after the first encounter on Captiva, on the West coast of Florida!
Next morning, Friday, September 26th, Archie's first thank-you letter was written! We were thanked for making June a member of our chapter and for finding Queen Jean Ann who welcomed June as a member of the Red Hat Garden Gabbies. He explained that June had had a particularly tough time at the cancer center and came home to Jean Ann's morale-boosting invitation to lunch and to our certificate which arrived in the mail the next morning. "Talk about big, happy face smiles. June called her parents and her sister--who live in Delaware--and took great delight in describing the certificate and telling of plans for the lunch." He described a bit of June's suffering over the past couple of years and how "she has been cheered up by all of this ‘red hat' activity, more than you could imagine. Lunch yesterday was delightful--she went out of the house looking like a candidate for ‘Miss America' and came home with the biggest smile I've seen in years."
Archie's description of going shopping for red and purple attire without success and of Jean Ann's providing at least adequate garb was delightful. He commented, "Jean Ann is a queen who evidently cares deeply for all her subjects." He closed with, "please know that you have opened a very bright chapter in June's life, a fun diversion to the routine which we've been forced into while dealing with the ‘M.M.' Thank you, thank you! and June sends her very best...."
This letter was shared with the Mad Hatters who appreciated every happy thought and really enjoyed feeling that they had had a part in adding pleasure to June and Archie's life. Nobody was thinking about the pictures that started the story less than three weeks previously...
Later that same week came June's "thank you, thank you" letter. She so appreciated the Honorary Membership certificate and the needlepoint doll-shaped name tag that our Queen Evelyn had sent. Meeting and being invited by Jean Ann was another highlight, and lunch with the Garden Gabbies was "such fun, all the ladies were so nice." June helped us to get to know her, as Archie had done, by sharing a few medical details and these thoughts, "I'm feeling pretty good. I always say to look around you and you'll find someone worse off than you no matter how bad things are. So there's no time to feel sorry for yourself, you just have to roll with the punches and take what comes." She closed with, "Sweet thoughts, June."
In early October, just a month after our first meeting, Archie's package was delivered here at Shell Point. THE pictures had arrived. Generous Archie sent ten copies of each of the pictures he had taken of our group and ten more of June holding her certificate of membership! We were able to share and appreciate all the photos at our October meeting at Chadwicks. Archie informed us that June now was the proud owner of at least two purple blouses, two purple pants, a red hat, and a red visor, plus whatever else Jean Ann had brought over to share. Pictures of June in her new outfits would be sent later, he promised. He described the two meetings planned for October and November in great detail; June was really looking forward to both, but first of all to being able to enjoy the early October meeting, a morning at the PGA Spa with the other non-golfer Red Hatters. Just imagine how the warm water would feel on her aching back! "June's spirits are sky high since the activities of the Red Hat started. Almost three years of doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, etc., was wearing us both down. I am elated to see her so happy. You and your ‘Mad Hatter' pals triggered a joyous renewal in our lives. Thank you, thank you. Sincerely, Archie." We, on the West coast, seemingly so far away, appreciated the photos and Archie's letter and feeling as if we really were a part of something beautiful that was happening all because we were Red Hatters! and forgot our camera...
True to his word, Archie's next letter, written in early November, included pictures of June in her Red Hat attire. He also sent a picture of himself with June, because I'd admitted to him that we all had forgotten what they looked like when we first met in September. Another snapshot was of June and "her" bench at their nearby park. Imagine her surprise when they went for a walk in the park on her birthday in ‘02 and she found Archie's gift was her own bench with her name attached! Archie's enclosed letter told us that as he was writing, Queen Jean Ann had phoned with a real surprise for June; somehow she had arranged for June to use the PGA Spa when she wished for the small $10 guest fee! June "lit up like a Christmas tree" when she heard the news. "Jean Ann is a GEM! What a morale booster!" Again he thanked the Mad Hatters for having introduced June to Red Hatters in general and to Jean Ann in particular and "for making a major improvement in our lives."
June sent a clipping of the DivaDuck, a land/water vehicle that is used as a fun tourist attraction. For their early November gathering, the Garden Gabbies planned to have breakfast on Singer Island and then to take the DivaDuck trip up the Intracoastal Waterway. June had really looked forward to this special occasion and was disappointed when, after three days of stormy, wicked weather, it had to be canceled. She wasn't even glad to save the $31.00 it would have cost--"I don't splurge on much of anything else, so I figure I'm worth it! Life is too short!" How's that for positive thinking? Her letter told us we would enjoy reading The Red Hat Club book which her sister had sent. She knew it was an unofficial Red Hat book, but lot of fun to read and available at Barnes & Noble. June told us she would be unable to join us for our November meeting, but appreciated having been invited. Instead of traveling to our "west coast" meeting, she needed to be in the hospital again for a scheduled chemo treatment and blood and platelet infusions. She then drew a smiley face and commented, "I say I'm like an old tire, they just keep patching me up for another few miles!"
She wrote, "You are right that the Lord had a hand in our meeting and, in turn, meeting Jean Ann and really changing my life for the better. Somewhere to go once a month--it is nice to have ‘my time' with nice people and someone to laugh with!" June wrote that she considered Jean Ann her "special guardian angel" who cares enough to be giving platelets regularly in hopes of helping to keep June alive and functioning.
The Bakers' Christmas letter, apparently mailed to friends and family far and wide, included a lovely photo of June in her Red Hat attire and posed in front of their fireplace. It is hard to believe that such a healthy looking person with such a lovely smile could really be suffering the effects of Multiple Myeloma. Their letter described a roller coaster year. They had thoroughly appreciated their mini-holidays in September. Archie wrote, "This new interest in the Red Hatters is so far removed from the regimen of doctors and pills that June is energized anew. Her smile is brighter."
Their fun times were interspersed with many hospital stays for antibiotics, blood, platelets, tests, treatments and general medical care provided by the best of doctors, nurses and staff personnel. June was hospitalized from December 1-10, but fortunate enough to be home only twenty-six hours before sitting down to the Garden Gabbies' Christmas dinner. Archie had been appointed official photographer for this occasion and really enjoyed taking photos of the twenty-one ladies dressed in red and purple finery. June was hospitalized again from December 15-19, but happily able to be at home for Christmas and the arrival of 2004.
Archie wrote on January 19th that June had gone into the hospital again on the 8th for high dose chemo which kept her there for five uncomfortable days. Home on the 13th, but back again for blood and platelets on the 16th. She missed the January 11th luncheon with the Garden Gabbies, but was looking forward to the February meeting. Archie wrote that he just hoped she could make it, because her immune system was at zero and, despite wearing masks, they just weren't eating out or joining any large group. It was also possible that June would be receiving three more high dose chemo treatments every twenty-eight days.
This January letter did tell of one happy event. They were surprised when a motorcycle roared up their driveway one Sunday morning, a beautiful Harley! Its passengers were Jean Ann AND Jack Duff. It was the first time the Bakers had met Jack, and it was a fun meeting over cups of coffee.
E-mails from Jean Ann kept us informed in late January and early February when June was back in the hospital again and not doing well. We learned that she was in some sort of isolation due to her zero immune system, so we Mad Hatters sent money for red and purple balloons. Dear, wonderful Jean Ann purchased our balloons, attached the card we'd sent, dressed herself in medical "scrubs," and convinced the hospital staff that they could and would sanitize the balloons so that they could be delivered to June! Can you imagine the surprise for both Archie and June when Jean Ann arrived in PURPLE scrubs carrying the balloons from their "west coast" friends? The "east coast" friends had generously provided red and purple afghans, teddy bears and who knows what all else. We all cared and wanted to do what we could.
Back on the West coast, the Mad Hatters had a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, February 11. After lunch, they were invited to meet with a "psychic"--a new experience for one and all. The Reverend Sally Silver is a Spiritualist Minister, healer, teacher and medium with many years of experience, and, as she introduced us to her fields of interest, she invited us each to ask questions of our own. Some questions were personal, some more general, and the last to be asked was how we might help our friend June. Reverend Sally asked about our ailing friend and quickly suggested that we should pray for her. We held hands in a circle and Reverend Sally led the prayers. "God's will be done" and "give June strength" were amongst the phrases uttered. Following our prayer circle, she commented that often such prayers gave strength to the ailing person and helped that person to have the strength to rise up and join her/his angels on the way to heaven. Our hearts were in our prayers that afternoon.
When home again, an e-mail was sent to Jean Ann telling her what we had done for June at our meeting. The next we heard was, "June went to heaven with her angels about 4:30 p.m. today." Later we heard that at about 3 p.m. the hospice care givers had told Archie and June's mother and sister that June wouldn't last long and by 4:30 p.m. she had passed away. When she was able to reach him, Jean Ann told Archie what the Mad Hatters had done, and he replied, "It worked. Tell the gals that they lifted June to heaven with their prayers." June was in no pain and was very comfortable at the time. She commented, "Yes, I think it was the CIRCLE OF LOVE that called attention to the angels and helped June nestle in their feathers."
That was not the end of the story. Later Jean Ann reported that Archie was doing very well. She shared the fact that June's final resting outfit was her finest pants and blouse and whichever red hat looked best on her now that her hair was gone. Jean Ann also shared Archie's invitation to us to attend June's memorial service and a luncheon following on March 20th. That gave us lots to consider...
Our own guardian angel, after considering that our average age was in the 80s and our eyesight was no longer near 20/20, intervened and provided a van and driver for the day of June's memorial. Six of us were able to go. Dressed in our finest red and purple outfits, we boarded at 8 a.m. promptly and arrived in Palm Beach Gardens with a few minutes to spare. We were royally greeted by Jean Ann and other Garden Gabbies and ushered into a bright, cheerful Methodist church that had white walls with three beautiful stained glass windows in the front of the sanctuary. Many red hats throughout the congregation added a meaningful touch. A small altar at the front of the church held a lovely framed photograph of June in Red Hat attire, a single red rose, and a red and purple box containing her ashes. Behind and setting off this memorial was a lovely, purple hand-crocheted afghan, featuring a single hovering angel, that had been stretched on a curtain stretcher--most effective! We learned that a friendly Garden Gabbie had crocheted the afghan for June.
The memorial service for June was awesome. It started in comfortable, traditional fashion. Then the very special solo music permeated the church. Archie spoke at length about his wonderful twenty-six years with June and especially about the God-instances in their life together that had made it so special. We Red Hatters were filled with emotion when he told the congregation how much our friendship had meant to both of them. Their special friend, Rabbi Spar, was a most uplifting speaker. We most appreciated his recognition of Archie who had been June's greatest blessing for so many years. The memorial ceremony ended with the soloist, the minister, and the rabbi, all accompanied by the congregation, singing, I'll Fly Away. What a beautiful sendoff for our beautiful friend!
We who had come so far to be with Archie and the Garden Gabbies felt a true sense of gladness for having come. We agreed that each of us would love to be worthy of such a sendoff.
After a scrumptious buffet luncheon at the PGA Resort, we learned that June's family and the Red Hatters are working together to set up the June C. "Moonie" Baker Memorial Foundation to Benefit Kids with Cancer. Everyone wants June's lovely spirit to live on and to continue to be helpful to others. It had been June's request that the young, with their lives ahead of them, should be the recipients.
The June C. Baker Red Hat story goes on... and on....
Narrative by Ann Hermann