MUSCATINE — A longtime Muscatine County magistrate died last week, and community members and coworkers responded with shock and sadness this week.
Neva Rettig Baker, 57, of Muscatine died last Wednesday, August 7, at University Hospitals in Iowa City. Rettig Baker had served as a magistrate in the Seventh District Judicial Court in Muscatine County since 1997. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1984 from the University of Iowa and her law degree, from the same college, in 1987.
"She was a good friend of mine," said Esther Dean, a lawyer in Muscatine of more than 30 years. "She was a professional. She had been a magistrate for over 20 years and did a great job.
"She contributed a great deal to the community and the organizations she belonged to. We'll all miss her a lot."
Rettig Baker served as executive director for Muscatine Legal Services, which provides services to low income individuals, followed by the start of Baker Law Office, where she was a sole practitioner. She also served as a judicial hospitalization referee, and on several boards and committees.
Jean Pfeiffer said Rettig Baker hired her in 1992 at Muscatine Legal Services before she went into private practice. She said she was surprised to learn about Rettig Baker's death and that it is upsetting when anyone that young dies.
"I just feel sad," she said and remembered a friendly, professional acquaintance who loved talking about her gardening and home projects.
Local memberships included the Muscatine County and Iowa State Bar Associations, the Ethics Committee, Kiwanis, Muscatine County Board of Health and Cross Roads, Inc. board.
Magistrates preside over smaller cases including simple misdemeanors, small claims, evictions, initial appearances in criminal cases and mental health commitments, as well as perform civil wedding ceremonies.
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Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren said when Rettig Baker presided over a case where an individual was without a lawyer, or pro se, she made sure they understood what was happening in court.
"We're really going to miss her," he said. "She was dedicated to being a magistrate and a lawyer, in general."
William Koellner served on several boards with Rettig Baker, including general hospital board of trustees, Senior Resources Board and Muscatine County Board of Health.
"Honesty, integrity, … impeccable ethics," he said were words to describe the woman he knew professionally since soon after she completed law school. News of her death was a shock, he said. "I've not gotten over her passing," he said. "She's 20 years my younger. I'll admit, I had tears in my eyes."
He said the two had different disciplines — he an engineer who was mostly analytical, and she a lawyer who was concerned about helping people. Together, they brought a good balance to the boards they served.
Memorial services are 1 p.m. Saturday at Wesley United Methodist Church with inurnment at Muscatine Memorial Park Cemetery at a later date. Visitation will be 3-7 p.m. Friday followed by time to share memories at the Geo. M. Wittich-Lewis Home for Funeral and Cremation Services.
Koellner said Rettig Baker had a love and passion for people.
"She was truly service above self," he said. "She'd be the most honest, most compassionate person, but still be firm in the law and do the best for we the public."