Robert Baker moves a little slower and tackles more sitting-down jobs than he used to.
But at 88 years old, the man who came to Altoona in 1958 to open Unkel Joe's Woodshed continues to work in the store where he's affectionately referred to as Unkel Bob by store employees with the exception of his son, Larry, who now manages the store, and his grandson, Tim, a buyer for the store.
"Where's Unkel Bob?" one of the employees asked when searching for the founder who usually works in the rear stockroom, checking in the store's varied merchandise and preparing it for sale.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Robert “Unkel Bob” Baker stands with some merchandise in his store, Unkel Joe’s Woodshed, located in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Robert Baker holds his WWII Army Division cap.
In an office at the front of the store, Baker has a desk surrounded by a few family pictures, a framed certificate from store employees praising him for his World War II service and some other reminders of the events in his life.
"I bet you don't remember this," Baker said showing a color picture postcard of the Unkel Joe's Woodshed store at its 520 W. Plank Road location. That was the store he opened and operated until 1987 when Unkel Joe's Woodshed moved to a newly constructed building in the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center where it remains today.
Before coming to Altoona, Baker and partner Joe Anderson, known as "Unkel Joe," opened the original Woodshed store in February 1956 in their hometown of Lock Haven. They built an advertising campaign based on the use phonetic spellings, as evident in the store's name, and slang, as included in the store's longstanding pledge: "We ain't got everything but you might find anything."
Although 57 years have passed since the Lock Haven store opened and Baker is long past a typical retirement age, he said he still gets questions about when he's going to retire.
"What they usually say when they come into the store is: 'Are you still here?' " Baker said.
It's a question he laughs about.
And his response, he said, is usually to laugh.
"I've been blessed with pretty good health," Baker said. "I have some pesky things that bother me, but nothing serious. If I had to stay home, I'd probably die in a year."
And no one is asking the octogenarian to stay home.
"He may say he works 25 hours a week, but he's in the stockroom morning to night," said 10-year employee Linda Wible, who decorates the store's Christmas shop. "He's an inspiration to work with."
"He's my mentor," son Larry Baker said. "And a great father, a great-grandfather, someone special."
Grandson Tim Baker, who does much of the buying for Unkel Joe's Woodshed, said he is lucky to have "Pap-Pap" as a grandfather.
"He's the best guy I ever met," Tim Baker said.
The elder Baker is also known as a great storyteller.
"One time we bought all these remnants of Cannon towels, a lot of odds and ends," Baker said. "And because we bought them by the pound, we sold them by the pound. They were a big hit."
The store sells a variety of household goods - now priced individually - along with collectibles, gifts and hunting and fishing equipment and holiday merchandise.
But Baker's stories go beyond the Woodshed's walls.
The World War II veteran was part of the 63rd Infantry Division that landed in southern France in December 1944, six months after the massive Allied invasion of western Europe known as D-Day. He and fellow soldiers fought their way through France and Germany.
"I can understand why some of the soldiers don't want to talk about their experiences, but it doesn't seem to bother me that way," he said. "I can speak about it."
Baker recalls a time when he was in Germany, riding in the third of three jeeps traveling a back road, and was lucky to remain alive. The second jeep, he said, struck a land mine and three of the four soldiers in that jeep died. He saw everything.
"Two of those guys in the second jeep were alive [initially] and they began shooting them full of morphine," he said.
As the war began to wind down, his division was ordered to search and secure concentration camps and he remembers the scene his unit encountered upon arriving in Landsberg, Germany.
"Their bodies weren't buried, so we made the civilian population from Landsberg come bury the bodies," he said. "There were thousands."
As for his wartime experience, Baker said he no regrets.
"I was glad to be a part of putting to an end to all of that," he said.
But he objects to being called a hero.
"The heroes are all dead," he said. "I was just one of the lucky ones to come home."
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.