2017 Grand Marshals Gene & Wilma Baldwin
2017 Grand Marshals
Elton “Gene” and Wilma Baldwin
By Milinda Wilson

For Elton “Gene” and Wilma Baldwin they say choosing to move to Stanton in 1958 was one of the best choices they ever made.
Transferred to the area by Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., Gene was in charge of developing a new gas field in Sumner and had the choice to move to any of the communities in the area.
They said what attracted them to Stanton was its proximity to so many lakes and its great school system for their children. But living in town took some getting used to for both of them. Wilma grew up on a farm in Chippewa Lake near Big Rapids and Gene grew up in the country in Remus, so, moving to town was a bit of an adjustment, they said.
But what Gene said he soon discovered is that although you might be right in the middle of town, Stanton doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re in a city.
As this year’s grand marshals of Stanton Old Fashioned Days, Gene and Wilma are being honored for their many years of involvement and dedication in the community.
Gene and Wilma first met on a blind date. Gene was a friend of the guy that Wilma’s sister was dating and at first she thought there was no way they would work out because Gene looked so young. “The first thing I asked him was what year did you graduate?” Wilma said. “I was sure he was probably still in the 9th grade.” But come to find out, she said, they both graduated the same year and are actually only four months apart in age.
Wilma graduated from Ferris State University with a degree in accounting and for a while owned her own accounting business with a friend in Big Rapids.
Facing being drafted during the Korean War, Gene hit a stroke of luck when his draft notice was accidently sent to a relatives address instead of his. Knowing everyone was being sent to Korea in the middle of fighting, Gene told his relatives to send back the draft notice and write on it “wrong address.” Knowing it would take them a few days to straighten out the address issue, Gene was looking to buy himself a little time. A few days later, he went and signed up with the U.S. Air Force. By the time his draft notice was resent to him, Gene was able to tell them “sorry I am already enlisted.” He served for four years in the U.S. Air Force and was first stationed in Iceland.
At the age of 52 Wilma went back to college where she got her teaching degree. She taught business classes at Montcalm Community College for eight years. Gene graduated from MCC, as well.
Gene and Wilma have five children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
They have spent many years involved in numerous community organizations and civic groups, including as members of the First Congregational Church of Stanton, the Stanton Masonic Lodge, the Montcalm Community College, the Stanton Jaycees and the Downtown Development Association, etc.
Gene and Wilma said they are honored to be nominated as grand marshals of Stanton Old Fashioned Days and are excited to take part in the festivities this year.
Over the years Gene and Wilma have rented and owned several houses in Stanton and each time they purchased a home it wasn’t necessarily because they were looking to move, but it was more because the house needed them to save it and bring it back to its original craftsmanship.
For Gene and Wilma restoring their homes back to their original beauty and charm has been a labor of love they both say they just happened into. Although over the years Gene has become quit the craftsman and has learned how to build and restore many things, he said it’s not something he has ever had any training in. If something needed to be built or fixed Gene said he learned by doing.
And the home they currently live in, on the corner of Main and State streets, is no exception. Previously used as an office for the Bureau of Social Aid, Gene and Wilma decided to put in a bid for the home when it was up for sale in 1972 because they had some extra money and they didn’t want to see it get in any worse shape than it already was. The roof leaked in several locations and there were buckets all over the second floor Wilma said. And on top of that, Gene said, because it was previously used as office space, there were partitions separating all the rooms into smaller offices. And wherever a partition butted up against a baseboard or fireplace mantel someone had cut notches out of the mantels and baseboards which meant they all needed to be replaced and repaired. “But we originally didn’t buy this house intending to live in it,” Wilma said. “We rented a house on Pine Street for four or five years, before we decided to move in to this one.”
When Gene was 80 he went on a mission trip to Alaska where he was in charge of a young work crew that helped residents with home repairs and construction jobs. And as the oldest member of the group, he also was the most daring, attempting to climb to the top of a glacier -- climbing higher than most of the teenagers in the group.
At age 87 Gene and Wilma said what keeps them young is the fact that they try to stay active and “keep going in spite of it all.”
--- Gene and Wilma’s daughter, Patty Rockafellow, contributed to this article.