By all accounts, retired oceanography teacher, environmentalist and beach aficionado Sue Baker is a force to be reckoned with.
Her infectious enthusiasm for all things Greenwich Point was evident during a visit to 'The Point' last year with philanthropist Deborah Royce. "Susie had driven me down here to show me what they planned" for the old barn building adjacent to the restored historic Innis Arden building.
"She was talking about whether we would like to have naming rights for the new pavilion. Every single person we came across, it was 'Hi Susie. Hi Mrs. Baker. Hi Susie. Hi Mrs. Baker. Everyone knew Susie,'" Royce told about 100 people who gathered at the old barn building Sunday afternoon. The building, erected in 1887, was decimated during Hurricane Sandy — literally leaving a shell of the building that housed a concession stand, and the lifeguard and first aid station.
"She is just the most generous person I know," said Royce, who with her husband, Chuck, decided a renovated barn with a dining pavilion overlooking the shoals of Greenwich Point should be named in Baker's honor. So on a blustery Jan. 12 afternoon, the Royces, Baker, local officials and Chris Franco, president of the Greenwich Point Conservancy, tossed the first shovelfuls of sand for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
Baker said she "was totally surprised" when she learned the Royces wanted to honor her and her work.
The Conservancy has raised $850,000 for the project which will include restoring the stone and shingle barn, removing the center section that was added in later years, and adding both an indoor and outdoor dining terrace with Long Island Sound views. The red brick restroom building will be demolished. Once work on the Old Barn is finished, the parking lot between the barn and Innis Arden Cottage will be replaced with beach grasses, benches and a winding stone path.
The Conservancy has filed its plans with the Greenwich Building Department and anticipates receiving the building permits in about two weeks. Construction should take five to six months, according to Franco.
First Selectman Peter Tesei was among several local pols — including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Greenwich), state Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36), and state Rep. Steve Walko who had nothing but praise for Baker's efforts to promote and preserve the Greenwich waterfront.
Tesei, who was a student of Baker’s at Greenwich High School, said the barn restoration will “extend the polishing of the jewel in the crown of Greenwich Point.” He said visitors will “appreciate the milestone of what it’s about…the many decades” of Baker’s efforts. The emphasis on decades of service, prompted laughter from the crowd huddled on the beachside of the boarded up barn.
“You’re already digging,” quipped Blumenthal, prompting more laughter.
“It’s not quicksand,” replied Tesei, as he stood next to a row of the ceremonial shovels. To which Baker responded, “And I’m not grading you.”
Blumenthal described Baker as an “irresistable and indominable force” whose work will guarantee that future generations will be able to enjoy Greenwich's beaches on Long Island Sound.
Frantz said the project is another example of the public-private partnerships the town continues to develop to take on major capital improvement projects.
Of the town's partnership with the Conservancy to complete the project, Baker said, "They say it takes a village ... and you are the saviours" of the old barn and Greenwich Point."