Bob Baker Chicken BBQ PavilionPhoto by Robert Rieger

Lansing's permanent Chicken BBQ Pavilion was dedicated in memory of Bob Baker Saturday, with about 35 people in attendance.  The speakers included two of Baker's sons, Dale and Kermit, as well as Parks & Recreation Supervisor Patrick Tyrrell, and Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne. 

"He helped developed a sense of community." "We've had 70 years of chicken BBQ thanks to my dad. We're looking forward to 70 more years," said Kermit Baker.

Bob and Jackie BakerA Sodus, NY native, Baker came to Cornell University to earn a Bachelor's degree, and earned a master's at Pennsylvania State University and doctorate at Purdue University.  He came back to Cornell in 1957 where he founded the school's Institute of Food Science.  During his career he published almost 300 research papers, and invented around 50 new ways to prepare chicken, and, later, fish.  He most famously inventing chicken nuggets (McDonald's may have made them famous, but they were Baker's invention), as well as chicken hot dogs, chicken sausage, a fish deboning machine, and egg products.  He invented what later came to be called Cornell Sauce while at Penn State in 1947. 

He married Lansing native Jacoba (Jackie) Munson in 1944, and dived into the Lansing community.  He was a prime mover in the development of Woodsedge Apartments, and was a founding member of the Lansing Lions Club.  He was also a member of the Ithaca Rotary and the North Lansing Auxiliary.   The couple had seven children.

"He [Bob Baker] has made a positive impact on the lives of many people," LaVigne said at Saturday's event. "These barbecues make a big impact. The atmosphere in our country today has no tolerance, but if you have a chicken BBQ, people congregate, get to know each other, and get along."

Baker's Chicken CoopLansing Star Archive Picture

Baker started working at the New York State Fair, and he and his family established Baker's Chicken Coop, which was famously visited by President Bill Clinton , Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton in 1999.  Bob, Jackie, and daughter Reenie Sandsted founded Baker's Acres in North Lansing 1980 which is still managed by Sandsted.

Chicken Barbecues are a long-standing Lansing tradition, and most have used Baker's famous Cornell Sauce to provide that distinctive smell and taste of a Lansing barbecue.  Lansing's premier chicken barbecuer Dave Hatfield has set up and taken down large metal barbecues in front of the Town ball fields for many years.  That old saying about the mail being delivered could easily be applied to him: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays Dave Hatfield from the swift barbecuing of chicken."  As far back as October of 2017 the Lansing Town Board discussed building a permanent pavilion, and at that time Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne suggested naming it for Baker.  The Lansing Highway Department began construction in April of 2019, and Hatfield barbecued the first chicken at the pavilion the following month.  A dedication has been planned for s long time, but, of course, everything has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

"This new pavilion is such a huge bonus," Hatfield said Saturday. "You don't have to worry about rain or sleet or high winds." "I cooked 450 chicken halves this morning. I came in at 6 a.m., turned on the lights, didn't have to worry about tents blowing over or anything. It's very useful."

Bob Baker Chicken BBQ PavilionDale Baker speaking at the pavilion dedication. Photo by Robert Rieger

"It's been an honor to work with the Baker family," Tyrrell said. "A lot of groups and people will benefit from the pavilion we've put together."

Baker Pavilion PlaquePhoto by Robert RiegerBaker was known as 'The Edison of Poultry' and also as the "George Washington Carver of poultry".

In past years Baker has been honored many times in the Town of Lansing, including a barbecue chicken competition at the Lansing Harbor festival, and a garden named for him at Woodsedge.

After Saturday's dedication ceremony, Baker family members adjourned to the Munson/Baker burial plots at the North Lansing Cemetary to plant daylillies, hybridized by Paul Downie, named for over a dozen family members buried there.

The 48 foot long pavilion sports a new sign that reads, "Bob Baker - Home of Chicken barbecue" as well as a plaque that tells about Baker's career and, of course, his barbecue sauce.  The pavilion has electricity, lights, and running water.  Roof vents were installed to handle smoke from the barbecue.

"He didn't just develop the sauce, he also showed people how to cook chicken," Dale Baker said."A lot of people who are attending here today have cooked a lot of chicken."