Local officials, community leaders, colleagues, family and neighbors of John E. Baker came together yesterday to officially dedicate Laurel Drive Park in memory of local builder, decorated Vietnam War hero and community philanthropist John Edward Baker. On Tuesday, September 20th, 2022, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim led the ceremony together with fellow town officials, members of the Planning, Building, Parks & Public Safety Departments, together with the Baker family, the Cosentino family, John’s neighbors, and the Hauppauge Recreation Development Association. The ceremony included a ribbon cutting and sign unveiling at the newly renovated “John E. Baker Memorial Park” formerly known as Laurel Drive Park.
“John Baker is fondly remembered for his close working relationship with the Town of Smithtown. His efforts have shaped the landscape of the town, as he would not build something without giving something back to the community. John was also famous for his visits to Town… where he would spend hours sharing great stories with us. Most of his war stories are still classified so we won’t be sharing any of them with you today. We lost John way too soon. We miss him greatly. And this park dedication today, is just one small way we can ensure his legacy remains a constant for generations to come." - Supervisor Ed Wehrheim
As part of the 2021-2022 capital improvements budget, the Town of Smithtown approved the funding and execution of a total renovation at Laurel Drive Park. The overhaul included a brand new playground, basketball, tennis & handball courts, fencing, walkways and all new surfacing. Additionally, for safety reasons, the park was extended and leveled towards the back of the property. This reconstruction was inspired as a result of a working relationship with Hauppauge Recreation Development Association (HRDA), a community based group working with the Town to increase and improve access to local parks and facilities. The work was completed in mid Spring 2022. Upon receiving the news of John Baker’s passing in June, the Smithtown Town Board agreed that the new park should be dedicated in his honor.
“On behalf of my family, I just want to say thank you to the town for this wonderful tribute. My dad loved spending time with his grandkids here. And for our daughters to see his name every time they come to play here… it really takes your breath away. Thank you for keeping his memory alive.” - Joe Baker
“John was taken from us too soon. However, he left a lasting legacy in the community he called home. It has been a privilege to work with him over the years, and to call him a friend. It’s incredibly fitting that this park, where his Grandkids play daily, will bear his name for their kids to see someday.” - Councilman Tom McCarthy
“The balance that John Baker brought to the community, between development as well as recreation is truly amazing. And this park dedication symbolizes his example and leadership, which will truly live on forever.” - David Wolmetz, Hauppauge Recreation Development Association (HRDA)
“John was a real life Rambo. In addition to his heroics on the battlefield, John was an avid hunter, and fisherman. He took great care of his cars, and knew exactly what was needed to get the job done. He was the first one to work and the last one out the door each day... In Smithtown John was responsible for the development of over 900,000 square feet of commercial development. But he’s also responsible for preservation of over 40 acres of sensitive land, most notably the 24 acre property located just north of the bull and the 8 acre Harned Sawmill property in Commack, among others. To this day, we often say how we miss John and how he was the guy to go to if we needed to get something done. This is a fitting tribute for an unforgettable person.” - Peter Hans, Director of Planning, Town of Smithtown
About John Baker:
Smithtown resident and builder John Baker moved to the township in 1973 where he married his wife Joanne. He served honorably in the U.S. Army from 1965-1967. Before Baker began his career with PJ Venture, he worked as a heavy machinery operator for the Local 138 Engineers Union.
John Baker’s close working relationship with the Town of Smithtown has had an enormous impact, benefiting both the community and the environment equally. Over the years, Baker preserved properties such as the Hauppauge Springs and the historic Harned Sawmill in Commack. His efforts resulted in the preservation of historic and environmentally sensitive properties which the Town of Smithtown would not have been able to acquire without a significant cost to the taxpayer.
During Baker’s career with PJ Venture (Cosentino Realty) for over 35 years, he oversaw and managed the construction of over 1.5 million square feet of commercial retail in the Town of Smithtown. Notable projects include Cosentino Commerce Center (Commack South Shopping Center), Crooked Hill Commons, Café Corner and the second Chick-fil-a on Long Island. Before his passing, Baker was in the process of constructing Floor and Décor’s in Commack South Shopping Center and the new Geico headquarters located in Commack’s Café Corner.