Carl Sandburg College Alumna Tracey Moore Baker, Husband Pledge 7-Figure Estate Gift, Largest Donation in College’s History

  Aaron Frey
  Tuesday, October 20, 2020 11:25 AM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Tracey Moore Baker didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a nurse. She simply wanted to find a way to support herself without having to rely on anyone else.

“Somehow I got interested in the nursing program and applied and finished up at Carl Sandburg College with an associate degree in nursing,” said Tracey, a 1985 graduate. “It just changed my life. It honestly changed my life.”

Now Tracey and her husband, Mark Baker, are planning to change the lives of other Sandburg students in a monumental way. The couple has pledged a seven-figure estate gift to Sandburg and intends to make other contributions in the coming years to support the College. All told, their donation will amount to the largest gift in the history of Carl Sandburg College and one of the biggest ever to any community college in Illinois.

“She figured out how to go through college and be successful,” Mark said, “but it’s a lasting legacy if we can help students like her in upcoming generations so that they don't have to struggle and scrimp and get by in order to get that education.”

Their estate gift will include an endowed scholarship, and additional contributions will go toward endowed faculty positions, recruitment of faculty, building expansion and other campus improvements.

“Mark and Tracey’s gift is, quite simply, transformational,” Sandburg President Dr. Seamus Reilly said. “At a period in our world of great uncertainty, this gift enables the College to envision life decades from now. While the original founders of the College imagined what Carl Sandburg College might become, Tracey and Mark’s gift allows us to plan confidently for the future and will help thousands of students achieve their own educational goals.”

Emily Webel, director of advancement for the Carl Sandburg College Foundation, nearly dropped her phone in shock when Mark called to tell her the news about the gift.

“A gift this size is what you dream about as an advancement professional, especially when it’s a planned gift. We can celebrate with Tracey and Mark and continue to get to know them better for years to come.” Webel said. “This is a life-changing gift for the College and our students that will impact our campus community. For them to feel comfortable making a contribution of this size speaks volumes about the type of people that Tracey and Mark are and about the lasting impact her experience at Sandburg had on her.”

Tracey grew up behind Churchill Junior High on North Academy Street in Galesburg and attended St. Joseph’s Academy, Bateman School, Gale Middle School and Churchill before graduating from Galesburg High School in 1978. She got her start in the health care industry as a candy striper at St. Mary Hospital and later as a nurse’s aide at the Galesburg Clinic.

Tracey spent a year at Western Illinois University after high school but couldn’t afford to continue. She came back home to Galesburg and enrolled at Sandburg thanks to a Pell Grant, a small student loan and the determination to find her future. She discovered it in Sandburg’s nursing program.

“I didn't have any money, I didn't have any help and my folks didn't have the resources for that,” Tracey said.”Nursing opens a lot of doors where there's so many things you can do. Being a staff nurse is great. Lots of people do it for 30 years. For me, I took different paths all along the way. I could not have done it if I had not chosen that path with Carl Sandburg College and was able to be at home and live inexpensively.”

At her capping ceremony, she wore a nurse uniform that her dad, Frank Moore, bought from the JCPenney at Sandburg Mall. When Tracey completed Sandburg’s nursing program, she became the first college graduate in her family.

“God, I'm so proud. It was a big deal,” Tracey said, tearing up at the memory. “It was unbelievable. I didn't know that that could happen. I found what I needed to find through Carl Sandburg.”

A little over a year later, while visiting a cousin in Cincinnati, Tracey responded to a newspaper advertisement for nursing positions at University Hospital (now University of Cincinnati Medical Center). She was hired as an otolaryngology (ears, nose and throat) nurse within a day and moved to Ohio two weeks later. Because she worked at the hospital as a license registered nurse, she could attend UC for free and went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Similar to their commitment to Sandburg, Tracey and Mark have made a seven-figure pledge to support UC’s nursing program.

Tracey went on to assist with conducting clinical research trials in UC’s General Clinical Research Center, then specialized in female health at the university’s Center for Reproductive Health. From there, she moved away from nursing and worked in pharmaceutical sales, medical device sales, medical device reporting to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and as a medical device clinical consultant.

“I've gone places, done things and worked in different fields of the medical community that I never thought were possible,” Tracey said. “A lot of different things opened a lot of different doors.”

A new door in her life opened when she met Mark two years ago at a party while they were both living in Denver.

“I wasn't looking for anybody and she wasn't really looking necessarily, but we ran into each other and we hit it off,” Mark said. “We just palled around for a while, and it didn't take long before it was a lot more than just palling around.”

Mark proposed to Tracey at the Packinghouse while on a trip to Galesburg last year for her nephew’s wedding. During that same visit, she gave him a tour of her hometown and drove him around Sandburg’s Main Campus, the place where she found her footing in nursing. The impact it had on her, Mark said, was evident.

“I knew that she had to work really, really hard to get through her associate degree and then to get her bachelor's,” Mark said. “As I learned about her career, I saw all the things that she was able to do from that humble beginning, but it hit me more when I actually went to Galesburg and saw this little town, saw every parking lot.”

When the couple, who wed this past August and now live in Knoxville, Tenn., started to put together their estate plans, it was Mark who came up with the idea to give back to the places that helped launch Tracey’s career.

“When I looked at it, the real impetus, the real journey began at Carl Sandburg College, and I didn't want in any way to understate the importance of that step,” Mark said. “Nothing changes the world more, nothing empowers people more, nothing helps them move from one difficult or challenging or not-perfect situation to a much better place in the world than in education. Setting up this scholarship fund as a perpetual gift will literally change the world for generations.”

Tracey said she hopes their decision will help inspire others to consider donating to Sandburg or including it in their estate plans.

“Universities have a bigger base of people that can provide this kind of funding, these kinds of resources, and community colleges I don't think have that,” Tracey said. “I know what Carl Sandburg College is still doing is astonishing, and we just want to be a part of that. I never want to see it ever go away. The people that go there, especially in the nursing program, they're going to take care of this nation, so we have to support this to keep it going.”

Although she hasn’t lived in Galesburg for nearly 35 years, Tracey continued to refer to it as her home for decades. Her hometown has always remained with her, and now Tracey and Mark will leave an indelible mark on it.

“Without the skills and education I got, I don't know what I'd be doing,” Tracey said. “Galesburg is a wonderful place, but I don't know what I'd be doing if I hadn't been able to go to Carl Sandburg College. It was a life-changer for me.”

To learn more about how you can make a planned gift to Carl Sandburg College, contact the Carl Sandburg College Foundation at 309.341.5349 or, or you can give now on the Foundation's website.

Mark Baker and Tracey Moore Bakerr

Carl Sandburg College alumna Tracey Moore Baker and her husband, Mark Baker, have pledged a seven-figure estate gift to Sandburg, the largest donation in the College’s history. Their estate gift will include an endowed scholarship, and they intend to make additional donations that will go toward endowed faculty positions, recruitment of faculty, building expansion and other campus improvements. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Moore Baker) 

Moore Baker graduation

Tracey Moore Baker wears her cap and gown during Carl Sandburg College’s 1985 commencement inside John M. Lewis Gymnasium. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Moore Baker) 

Tracey Moore Baker capping ceremony 

Tracey Moore Baker takes a photo at her capping ceremony in 1985 for graduating from Carl Sandburg College’s nursing program. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Moore Baker)

1985 capping ceremony

Tracey Moore Baker (front row, third from right) and the rest of Carl Sandburg College’s graduating class from the 1985 associate degree nursing program take a group photo at their capping ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Moore Baker)

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Aaron Frey