Use Your Imagination. I fell in love with reading and learning at a young age — back then, we truly had to make our own entertainment so using my imagination was crucial. These are lessons I have passed on to my children, who would always ask to hear stories rather than simply be read to.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their lives. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Baker.
Sam Baker is a 99-year-old WWII Veteran who embarked on a career as a children’s book author in his “fifth chapter”. Baker debuted his first children’s book, The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm at age 95 (in 2018) and his second book Oscar the Mouse was released in September 2020 thanks to a crowd-funded campaign via Canva. Sam currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Clarksdale, MS, a small southern town about 65 miles South of Memphis. My Father had a large cotton farm and my mother had a large dry goods store, until the depression came and they lost everything, including our home. During my early childhood, Emma, our family housekeeper, raised me, and was my companion until the depression when my mother was home. I was a curious youngster, always interested in how things worked, always building things with my hands, and was always reading books. At 8, in 1930, I got a paper route and made $1.50 a week which I gave to my mother.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have 6 key life lesson quotes i live by:
- Acceptance: My books are always about accepting people, no matter who they are or what they look like. This is exactly the lesson I teach in my book Oscar the Mouse through the tale of an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a child, and the unexpected joy they bring to each other’s lives.
- Spread Joy: My lifelong mission is to spread joy, kindness, and spark creativity and learning in people of all ages, drawing on the valuable lessons he’s learned during his fascinating nine-plus decades on Earth. We could all use joy in our lives more than ever right now.
- Be Kind. My number-one piece of advice? No matter what, be kind, because at the end of the day we’re all more similar than you think.
- Age is only a Number. Age is no barrier to fulfilling your lifelong goals. You never know about life so you should live every moment on this earth, you should live it. You never know what’s happening tomorrow.
- Give Back. I learned the importance of giving back at a young age. My father, a cotton farmer, lost the family farm during the Great Depression, and his mother’s business was also shuttered at the time. Despite these financial difficulties, I recall seeing people come to our family home searching for food and work. My parents never turned anyone away.
- Use Your Imagination. I fell in love with reading and learning at a young age — back then, we truly had to make our own entertainment so using my imagination was crucial. These are lessons I have passed on to my children, who would always ask to hear stories rather than simply be read to.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Honesty. I joined the Boy Scouts at 13 and truly believed in the Boy Scout Standards. Even today I place honestly at the top of the list.
- Treating everyone as equal. place honesty at the top of my list when I interview potential candidates for any job. I treat everyone as equal. When I was assigned to the NOAA Ship Pathfinder as Ship’s Officer, it was my job to hire personnel for the ship. I hired a black sailor to fill an open position. There were objections because there were no other black people on the ship. He turned out to be a great sailor, and it opened the door for the ship to adapt an open policy to future hiring.
- Prioritizing family. I think that having a strong and loving family is an essential part of a success story.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
When I left for Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC in September 1943, I had never been more than 150 miles from home. All of my travel had been from what I had read and imagined, so it was wonderful to begin to have actual travel. My career in the Marines was first a learning experience, then after the war ended, I was stationed in China and was second in command for a Battalion of 400 Marines, which provided me the opportunity to develop management and command skills. After I became an officer in the Coast and Geodetic Survey, now NOAA, I had ever increasing responsibilities on board ships, on geodetic field crews, and later in the Washington Office, as head of the National Geodetic Survey, responsible for all the horizontal and vertical networks In the U.S.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
Reinventing myself wasn’t completely my doing. When my children were small, I told them stories that made them imagine and create images in their mind. When my first granddaughter was born, my son suggested that using the computer, I should put on paper the wonderful stories I had told them many years before. I did, and my Second Chapter began of embarking on a career as a children’s book author.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
The desire to write children’s stories started many years ago when my two and half year-old daughter had me sit on the couch, climbed into my lap, read me her favorite book, closed it with authority, and turned to me and gave me a big, big smile. I gave her a great big hug and kiss. The book was upside down. This was her desire to learn how to read. The desire to get children to read stayed dormant until I retired and realized that I needed to put my efforts forward to help with the problem. Reading is the foundation to all other learning. Children who can read, will succeed.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
After I wrote my first book, The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm, and had others read it, they encouraged me to publish it. Then, I had to walk through all the pitfalls of self-publishing, but the rewards that come with it were worth all the time and effort when you realize that perhaps you encouraged or helped some children learn to read.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
They’re going great. My second book, Oscar The Mouse, was made possible after a close friend used Canva to design creative for a crowd-funded campaign to raise funds for its release. The successful marketing campaign led to an outpouring of donations and the book was released in September 2020 during the pandemic. I recently gave the book to a man with a 4-year-old son. He probably would not have purchased the book because he could not afford it. When I saw him again I asked him about it. He replied that his son insisted that he read it to him every night. Sometimes twice. Then he said, he wants an Oscar, a real live mouse! Experiences like these are incredibly rewarding. I am currently working on my third book!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can’t just choose one — but my mother and my children.
My mother always told me that I was going to college. When it came time to go, I only had $90 saved, and tuition was $144. I told her, “I will stay home and work for a year so I will have the money.” She replied, “They can take your money, they can’t take your education, they will find the rest.” I went to college. They waited until the first of the year for the remaining tuition and gave me a job working 40 hours a month for 25 cents an hour.
My daughter Sally, along with our friend and author Linda Larson Schlitz helped me to make my dream of publishing books come true. The design materials and the crowdfunding campaign made in Canva made it possible to launch my second book. It would not have been possible without them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I live in a retirement home. When I published my books, many of the residents brought them for their grandchildren. Many of the residents purchased two books and have told me the second one was for them. They thought that the story was so cute and meaningful that they liked to read it repeatedly.
Another exciting thing that happened is that now at age 99, I am appearing in Canva’s ‘With love’ Holiday campaign, sharing my life lessons in a video I created for my grandchildren. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to share my values of kindness, friendship, love, and inclusivity with the world to spread the holiday spirit.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
When I joined the Marine Corp, I only weighed 140 pounds, and was concerned that I may not be able to perform all the tasks that may be presented. I started lifting weights to develop my muscles, and when I left for the Marines, I could press my own weight (pick up, and raise the weight over my head with outstretched arms). Before I left for boot camp, I made a promise to myself, I was going to make it, regardless of the conditions or demands placed upon me — and I did!
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I wrote the book, but my daughter, Sally, who does public relations, took over from there. She found an illustrator, a publishing house, and tools like Canva that make up a success story. I am very lucky that she is nearby and has the time to help dad.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I have always been active since I retired last time, so I am used to moving outside of my comfort zone. I was the President of a 900 home homeowner association, on the board of the retirement home, partnered with my son on an invention to build a better football helmet, and many other projects.
What are your 5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone told me that writing the book is the easy part. That’s just the first step of many to come to to actually publish it and get it in the hands of people.
- To get the book from an idea into reality, it takes a lot of time the first time you do it. For example, It takes time to find editors. It takes time to vet illustrators who can take your vision and put it on paper. Colorists took my book’s images and made them come alive with incredible selections. Finally, finding a printer — and most importantly, an honest printer. The printer is vital to bring your book into its full potential. Vet them carefully for the quality of their work and financial stability to actually deliver your books. Our first printer ran off with our funds. Fortunately, we paid with a credit card and they were able to retrieve our funds and get our first book printed.
- Marketing your book (and yourself) takes time and money, and a real commitment to it. Using a Canva to design marketing materials and a crowdfunding campaign was instrumental in making it possible to launch Oscar The Mouse. It offers so many opportunities to be creative and imagine through design. I’m glad I have my daughter to help me with marketing to schools, libraries, the government and the public. It takes hours of work to build momentum, get appointments and network. To have success with marketing, it helps to have a marketing plan. Who do you want to reach? Where are those children and how can we reach them and their parents? How much time will you or your marketing person spend every day reaching out to those who are looking for or needing your books? Every step is an adventure.
- Be prepared to learn an entirely new field and continually move out of your comfort zone. Some of it is fun, and some of it is challenging. All of it has grown both myself and my daughter.
- Attach your book to a bigger cause. We are working to end Illiteracy. It seems that kids who don’t like reading love Oscar the Mouse. They tell me that they love that it’s funny and makes them laugh. Reading should be fun. It makes you want to keep doing it. The biggest joy I have is when children and parents let me know how much my books have meant to them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My mission is to help end illiteracy by making reading fun. I am currently researching how I can make the biggest impact, working with librarians, and schools to map out the next steps.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
I am concerned about the direction some people in this country want to take and what has happened to my beloved country, the country 11 million of us fought to preserve. I am very concerned about the water situation in this country. The Secretary of the Department of the Interior is responsible for all water issues. It would be nice to have a conversation with her in person, by phone, or Zoom.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!