Fourteen years ago, Thelma Baker was introduced to Toastmasters …
… when she attended a Speechcraft session. Today she’s the Treasurer of Oshawa Toastmasters Club and the long running Secretary of Spotlight Speakers Advanced Toastmasters Club. Oh, and she just celebrated her 90th birthday a few months ago.
“I thought it was quite interesting,” says Baker, when asked about her first Toastmasters experience. She’d seen an advertisement at Oshawa Senior Citizens Center. “I was bored,” she confesses with a laugh. Her husband had passed away almost a decade ago, and Baker was looking for ways to keep herself occupied.
Turns out Toastmasters was a perfect fit for the Oshawa resident. Baker has been a prolific speaker, having mastered the Legacy Communication & Leadership education program several times over. When pressed for details, she consults her notebook. Competent Communicator manual (5 times), Advanced Communicator Bronze manual (4 times), Advanced Communicator Silver manual (3 times), Advanced Communicator Gold manual (2 times) as well as Competent Leader and Advanced Leader Bronze manuals once.
If not for the fact that she’d need to serve as a Club Mentor as well as a District officer for a year, Baker would probably have become a Distinguished Toastmaster by now. “I might have done it if I was younger,” she adds, explaining how she had to stop driving a couple of years ago.
That is not to say Baker hasn’t been active in leadership roles. She’s been a Sergeant at Arms, Vice President of Membership, Treasurer and Secretary at Oshawa Toastmasters Club. Plus, she was one of the first 20 founding members of Spotlight Speakers Advanced Toastmasters Club. “Volunteering is something I was brought up to do,” Baker explains after stating how she’s been the Secretary for Spotlight for 7 years running. “Plus, nobody else ever wants to do it!” she jokes.
Baker’s jokes have made many people laugh over the years, perhaps never more than in 2012. That year she competed in the Humorous Speech contest, winning at the Club, Area and Division level before participating in District 60’s Final. Her speech, titled “My most embarrassing moment,” recounted a hilarious story of how her car stalled at a red light in downtown Toronto. Two streetcars were stuck behind her as she desperately tried to operate the stick shift. Then several men came out of the street cars, wordlessly lifted her vehicle, and moved it to the side of the road.
“I didn’t expect it,” Baker says, reflecting on her run of three straight speech wins. “I just had a good story and it worked.” It’s not the fact that she could stand on the District stage and speak that Baker finds most memorable. “So many people from the club came to support,” she remembers fondly.
“I’ve found friendships through Toastmasters. I find I’m made very welcome, and for someone who is living alone, that’s important,” Baker said when asked what the organization means to her. She loves the fact that her fellow members are supportive, not just with her speeches. “They’ll look at me and ask, ‘Something bothering you, Thelma?’”
Sadly, right now there is something that bothers Thelma Baker. It’s the fact that Toastmasters meetings have been shifted online due to the pandemic. As someone who has never used a computer before, Baker can only join the meetings by phone. She can’t wait to meet everyone in person again.
“Someone is going to teach me how to use a tablet,” she adds, though she doesn’t sound too optimistic about it.
While we all hope the global pandemic ends soon, Baker has made it clear she has no plans to slow down her Toastmasters journey. After all, she’s just renewed both her memberships!
This article was written by Mohamed Musthafa Azeez.