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Slain UND student awarded posthumous degree

Adam Baker

The mother of former UND student body president Adam Baker says it will be "all in all kind of bittersweet" accepting her son's posthumous master's degree at UND's spring commencement Saturday afternoon.

Parents Rondha and Dennis Terhark, Baker's siblings and girlfriend have come to Grand Forks to accept the master's in aviation Baker earned before his death. He died in December after another man punched him outside a bar in St. Michael, Minn., last May.

Baker planned to use his degree to climb the corporate ladder at Delta Air Lines, Rondha Terhark said. Before his injury, Baker was working as Delta's station manager in Dayton, Ohio.

For her, the posthumous degree is "just proof of the hard work that Adam did to further his education, which was very important to him.

"One of his favorite sayings was, 'You gotta have a plan.' He had a plan for his life; getting his master's degree was part of it. He worked hard, and he was proud of himself, too, for getting that far."

Fred Wittman, UND's director of ceremonies and special events, said awarding an posthumous degree is rare. In the past 10 years, he can remember UND awarding only three other posthumous degrees to students who died before graduation. Students must have completed all of their degree requirements.

"It isn't something that happens very often, thankfully," Wittman said.

Remembered fondly

At UND, Baker's legacy will live on in the Wellness Center, said Bob Boyd, UND's former vice-president of student affairs. Baker and then student vice-president Amanda (Anderson) Bentow promoted student support for the center during the 2003-04 school year.

"He was an outstanding young man, and I enjoyed working with him very much," Boyd said.

Kimberly Kenville, an aviation professor at UND, remembers Baker as a driven student. He first started working with Delta as a graduate student intern.

"Adam did that and loved it and was wildly successful and ran with it," Kenville said.

Family plans

Baker's mother said the family planned to have dinner Friday night at the Applebee's where Baker worked while attending UND.

The family also plans to establish a scholarship in Baker's honor for students like Adam -- Stillwater (Minn.) Area High School graduates who attend UND.

"Adam was very into his schools," Terhark said.

In addition, UND has $6,000 in a memorial fund. Terhark said the family had thoughts about having a bench installed near the Wellness Center in Baker's memory.

"We had kind of hoped that we could connect it with the Wellness Center because Adam was a big part of that. He was always into exercising and eating right," Terhark said. "If all is good there, and they could really use the money somewhere else, that is fine with us, too."

Terhark is satisfied with the five-year sentence given to the St. Michael man, Alexander Tuomisto, who assaulted Baker.

"Nothing could bring Adam back, (but) I am satisfied with the sentencing," she said.

And though Baker is gone, Terhark said she doesn't want others to shy away from remembering him.

"I think a lot of people are afraid. It is OK to say his name or to bring things up. I will (talk about Adam) ... to let them know it's OK, to say things and to talk.

"Some days are easier than others, and other times not. We all miss him terribly."