Two members of Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale, previously in the pages of Jewish News, were named by Phoenix Magazine in its “Great 48 class of 2020” on June 23.

The local magazine set out to introduce “a dynamic group of Phoenicians” to the city when they began in February 2019 asking subscribers and readers to nominate residents in Greater Phoenix they feel “are moving the chains, making a difference or otherwise crushing it” in any of a variety of professional categories, from sports to politics and everything in between.

The candidates had to meet three criteria: live part of the year in Maricopa County, show “brilliance or exceptional accomplishment in their field,” and be interviewed and photographed by the magazine. There were over 300 nominations, and the editors chose 48 from among them, including the two aforementioned CBI members, Sam Baker and Mark Curtis.

Baker, 97, is an author and a retired engineer. Born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he was the son of a cotton farmer.

Baker served in the South Pacific during the war and afterward joined the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. In 1951, as part of his work, he flew over the North Pole. Eventually, he became the director of the National Geodetic Survey, where he developed educational programing for surveyors in the United States and Europe.

Baker retired after 30 years with the service. Afterward, he worked briefly for Brookhaven National Laboratories in New York.

Growing up, his family grew cucumbers and dill plants in order to make dill

pickles. As a boy, Baker recalls seeing very large caterpillars on the dill plants.

When they were nearing their pupa stage, he would collect them in a shoebox and wait for them to emerge as “beautiful black swallow-tail butterflies.”

“I was stationed at Cape Canaveral and I was in charge of making sure that all the tracking devices for the missile launches were tied to the grid,” Baker said. “We had lots of tracking devices downrange and I had to go down there with my crew and make sure they were all correct. While I was gone, my wife used to read to the children. When I came back, they said, ‘No, Daddy, you tell us a story,’ so I created Herman the Worm.”

At the age of 95, he took that story and finally published his first book, “The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm.”

Now 97, Baker told Phoenix Magazine, “I don’t know that any of us have a key to longevity. You roll the dice, I guess, and some come up with seven and some come up with deuces,” he says. “Life is a joy. You live every day.”

Mark Curtis, 63, made his first appearance on Valley airwaves in June 1980.

He covered sports for 12 News until 1987 when he moved to Minneapolis. He and his family returned to Phoenix in 1995, and in 2004, he joined Channel 12’s anchor desk. He has received numerous awards for his journalism work and volunteered his time to numerous charity fundraising events such as emceeing Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association Yom Hashoah commemoration.

In his interview for Phoenix Magazine, he said one of the most memorable years of his career was covering the Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. “We were on buses from the airport and they took us right to ground zero,” Curtis said. “It was still smoldering. And then to have the Diamondbacks win – it was the thrill of a lifetime.”

Of his journalistic career, he told the magazine, “It’s such an honor to cover these events and I never lose site of the fact that I am really, really lucky.” JN

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