Adventures in Retirement: Exploring Antarctica, Botswana, and Alaska

Not too many years ago, if you saw a large, cherry-red Hummer truck tooling around the Chagrin River valley, Fran Baker may have been in the driver’s seat. Besides being a truck lover, Fran is a world traveler, award-winning nature photographer, and accomplished collector of Navajo artifacts, petrified wood, African masks, Zuni fetishes, exotic jewelry, and more – all  of which adorns her wonderfully decorated home.

Fran is a Judson at Home Member, and enjoys the services offered by this program which supports older adults with the goal of continuing to live independently at home, something she aspires to do.

When she is not at home, though, she could be anywhere! Fran has explored every continent and crossed nearly every longitude and latitude on earth. Fran is a true adventurer in the best sense of discovery, challenging herself and welcoming opportunities for unique experiences—going to Antarctica to see penguins and polar bears for example!

Judson's Services Exploring Antarctica, Botswana, and Alaska

Antarctica had long been on the list to explore, “I had a fourth grade teacher who used to pull down those old-fashioned linen maps in the classroom, and she would point out Antarctica. I decided right then and there, that someday I was going to go!” But it took until 1984 to make the trip, “My husband Tom got tired of hearing me say ‘I want to go’, so we went.”

Tom, also an avid photographer and videographer, gave Fran a small camera in preparation for the trip, since he was going to be busy shooting videos. Fran immediately fell in love with taking photos.  “It was amazing. You put film in a little box and out comes something beautiful.” After turning sixty, Fran decided to formally study photography at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  

Since then, she has been to Antarctica several times, once ending up in a storm, battered about on the open ocean for two hours in a small boat. The return trip to the research ship took two hours when it should have taken twenty minutes. Fran said others on the boat reacted differently to the arduous event. “They either prayed, got sick, cried, asked for booze, or all of the above,” she smiles. Just one small adventure in a lifetime filled with incredible memories.  

Fran has been chased by a hippopotamus in Botswana and had a particularly magical elephant encounter. At one point, Fran was sitting in an open air jeep when an elephant ran its trunk across her shoulders. “It felt like warm velvet, the hair on its trunk running across my skin. It was a spiritual experience for me,” she remembers. She also spotted this lion in Botswana, just lounging in the late afternoon sun on the Savannah.

Photographing animals in their native habitats is at the core of what she loves to do. Fran is mindful of the fact that she is present in the animal’s environment and says, “I am respectful, and make sure to thank the animals after I take their photos.” Hopefully these Alaskan bears accepted her note of appreciation from close up.

Adventures in Retirement Living

When asked what Fran would tell her younger self about her adventures in her later years, her response was, “you don’t have to do everything when you’re young—save some of it for later.”

Many people thank Fran for the opportunity to glimpse into the world of nature as they view her amazing photos, including those who were delighted to attend the Judson at Home Members’ art show this past summer.

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