Following the parade procession next Saturday, Sultana High School Key Club volunteers armed with pooper-scoopers will pick up after the equestrian stars of the Hesperia Days Parade. But that kind of roll-up-your-sleeves spirit was what jump-started the Hesperia Recreation and Park District 50 years ago.


The one who has done as much heavy lifting as anyone over the years, both in the field on park projects and in the board room, is Percy Bakker, a 50-year resident of Hesperia who has served on the park board, school board and Hesperia's first city council.


"Back then, that's the way you got things done," said Bakker, who will serve as grand marshal of the parade. "You just pitched in and did it. It's a case of seeing a need and meeting that need."


In fact, Timberlane was an example of how Bakker and others did whatever it took to get things done. Volunteers used a back hoe to break through the dense "hard pan" dirt crust. The father of Cal Herbold, the local "Sodzilla" of the nursery world, donated shade trees for the park.


"We had to truck in top soil. We planted everything you see. It was all done with volunteers."


Park district formation


Earlier, in 1954, Lime Street Park was built after land was donated by a developer.


"But there was no organization in the city that could take legal title to it."


So in 1957 community leaders got together and formed the park district, one of about 3,000 special districts formed in California in the 1950s.


"So we had a legal entity that could run our park."


Soon, largely with volunteer help, an equestrian arena -- later named the Val Shearer Arena -- was built for Hesperia Days and other activities.


In 1958, volunteers using lumber supplied by Don Oakes Lumber, which Bakker managed, built the Lime Street Park Community Center.


"So we had a place other than the Grange Hall for public use."


In 1959, with Bakker as one of the signers, the local Little League was chartered, and Owens Field was built.


"We put chicken wire for the back stop," he said. "There was really no money to do anything like that. A group would just get together and say this is what we need. People would step forth and say, 'I'll do it.' Back then that's the way you got things done. You just pitched in and did it."


Eventually, the park district did more than just help provide locations for recreation. The Hesperia Recreation and Park and Parkway District was formed to furnish street lights and landscape Main Street.


The district bought 110 Chinese Elm trees and planted them on Main Street from Hesperia Road to 11th Avenue.


Seeing a need, members from Boy Scout Troop 151 -- accepted the challenge -- by installing a 500-gallon water tank on a trailer and going up and down Main Street to water the saplings.


"For two or three years they faithfully did that" until the trees became strong enough to subsist on their own.


Over the course of several decades, however, all but one of the trees have succumbed to the desert elements.


"As of this moment, I know of only one of those Elm trees still standing." That lone tree is on Main Street near Pep Boys, Bakker said.


Bakker appointed


In 1960, Bakker was appointed to the park board after a board member moved to another city. Repeatedly, Bakker was elected to the board, serving seven terms over 28 years.


But the park board wasn't the only official board Bakker would serve on. Also in 1960, he would be appointed to the school board, a position he held through 1969. Then he served on the Victor Valley College Board of Trustees from 1969 through 1988.


Bakker remembers that in 1983, an election on cityhood "failed by a considerable margin."


But just five years later, when Hesperians became alarmed at a potential move by Victorville to annex part of Hesperia south of Bear Valley Road, another election was held and incorporation "was approved by a large majority."


So he left the VVC board in 1988 when he and four other city leaders were elected to Hesperia's first city council.


"I felt the City Council would take all of my time."


And it did.


"I was always very pleased that I was elected to that council. The voters recognized leaders that would serve the city and serve the city well."


Along with Bruce Kitchen, who was named the city's first mayor, the popular Val Shearer, experienced leader George Beardsley and Howard Roth entered uncharted territory as Hesperia's first five-member city council.


"Everyone had the best interests of the community at heart. The sole interest was to get the city up and running. And that was accomplished. It took a lot of time, and it was a real challenge. They were all people who understood principles and the role they were elected to do. It couldn't have been better in my opinion. The voters did a good job in electing that council."


Dealing with challenges


Three years after being elected to the city council, Bakker's wife, Marg, who he married in 1948, had a stroke following open-heart surgery.


But the couple, with the help of their three adult children, continued to thrive. The Bakkers even continued to travel occasionally. Still, it's been a character builder.


"I've spent the last 16 years as a caregiver. It's been very rewarding and very challenging. She's still enjoyed much of life despite her misfortune."


Elected to a second term in 1992, Bakker served as mayor. After the glow of cityhood began lose its luster, he and other council members learned to deal with occasional political tension.


Despite some battle scars, Bakker firmly believes the first council's accomplishments made a tremendous difference. And he applauds his successors for moving the city forward.


"Succeeding councils have, by and large, been serious-minded, dedicated people who, by the most part, have taken the foundation the first council laid and expanded on it and performed well. Today you are seeing the results of those efforts on my council."


Although the 79-year-old Bakker is not currently on an elected board, the presence of the Minnesota native of Dutch heritage is felt. The city named the Percy Bakker Community Center on E Avenue in his honor, and he attends numerous functions.


"Life has been a grand experience. If I had to do it over I'd probably do it exactly the same what I did it."