5 Real-Life Holiday Miracles
A Joyful Noise
By Lynn Rosellini
Three years ago, when Steve Baker's stepson was stationed in Iraq, the soldier received a birthday present from home. It was a guitar, and it was a hit. Word spread, and his buddies began asking for instruments.
Steve, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Barb, are longtime musicians who believe in music's power to soothe and inspire. They live in a mobile home, drive a Jeep with 174,000 miles on it, and run a music store in rural Minnesota that sometimes stays afloat on Steve's Social Security check. Yet the Bakers vowed that every serviceperson who asked them for an instrument would get one.
"With music, for just a minute, you're back home," Steve says.
Neither of the Bakers knew anything about fund-raising. But with friends, they organized a silent auction at the local American Legion in 2005 and raised $900. "We're rich!" crowed Steve. A distributor gave them a deal, and the Bakers sent off 22 guitars three days later.
They dubbed their effort Operation Happy Note, and in the ensuing months, Steve and Barb boxed and mailed banjos, mandolins, trumpets, clarinets, harmonicas and other instruments. A man in Iowa donated four boxes of violins. A left-handed guitarist sent four guitars for lefties. A retired couple in Florida mailed a check for $2,000.
Eventually Barb quit her part-time job to devote herself to Operation Happy Note. "We feel that this is our mission in life," she says. "The money isn't that important. We're not starving, and our light bill's paid."
These days, the back room at Fergus Music is jammed with boxes and bubble wrap. The computer holds a waiting list of over 300 servicepeople. "I send everything I can lay my hands on," says Steve. When a chapel at a base near Fallujah needed cymbals, Steve took four, worth $800, off the store's wall and wrapped them up.
Last Christmas, the Bakers shipped 48 guitars, drumsticks, harmonicas, and extra strings and picks. The instruments arrived in Iraq three days before Christmas. Staff Sgt. Louis Karsnia, a member of the Minnesota National Guard at Camp Taqaddum, a Marine logistical base, distributed them.
"Before, you'd see guys with their iPods on, listening to music, staying away from everybody else," says Sergeant Karsnia. "But when the guitars came, people got together. We'd have four or five guys playing guitar, and 25 or 30 others laughing and singing."
In the past three years, Operation Happy Note has sent nearly 630 free instruments to American troops around the world. Scores of e-mailed thank-yous from soldiers make it all worthwhile. This Christmas, the Bakers plan to ship Santa hats, decorations, holiday CDs and sheet music along with the instruments.
Sgt. Timothy Hall, a mapmaker in the 3rd Infantry Division, put it this way: "The music takes me away to another world—one that is peaceful and serene, where there is no hate, death or dirt." That sort of military transport is a miracle.
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