Editor's note: This is the second in a series of four profiles of seniors from the central Kenai Peninsula.
Charles "Ross" Baldwin has been one busy kid throughout his high school career. His resume fairly bursts with activities: academics, athletics, church, work and outdoor recreation.
"I've always tried to be a leader," the poised young man admitted.
But Baldwin knows how to have fun, too.
Among his favorite memories of his four years at Kenai Central High School were the choir pops concerts. He and his friends dressed up in wigs and what he called "stupid clothing" and performed a Led Zeppelin number; he also did a solo.
"I did 'Friends in Low Places' by Garth Brooks. The audience was really getting into it," he said.
And he treasures sports memories from his years in football, hockey and soccer.
"We had such a close football team," he reminisced. "It was an amazing experience."
But Baldwin is far more than a jock. He sang bass in the choir and played trumpet in the band. He was in Bible club and assisted in student council activities. And he cleaned up academically.
Baldwin was the only student in the central peninsula to receive a National Merit Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards for high school seniors. He also was named a semifinalist for the National Presidential Scholar Program.
He was one of his school's four valedictorians, taking the podium a week ago to address the crowd at commencement. Along with the other three and the salutatorian, he presented a "high five for life." His part was speaking about commitment, about setting goals to realize dreams.
Graduating was a bittersweet passage for him, as for many.
Baldwin was born in Soldotna and grew up in Kenai with his parents, Rick and Bobbie Baldwin, as the youngest of three children. He attended Sears Elementary, Mountain View Elementary and Kenai Middle schools over the years.
Many of his classmates are lifelong friends, and he characterized the Kards' Class of 2001 as "a really outgoing, social class." Sometimes they challenged authority, he admitted, but over the years some teachers emerged as real mentors to him and his peers.
"There are certain teachers our class has really loved," he said.
He praised Bob Summer (from the middle school) for making learning fun; Liz Burck for being a "great lady"; Alan Phillips for coping with ornery students; David Larson for combining camaraderie and high standards; and coaches Bob Downs and Brian Gabriel Sr.
"They've both been just great guys. You couldn't ask for better coaches," Baldwin said.
He remembers being a freshman and feeling quiet and shy. Four years have changed him a lot, he said.
"Now I'm probably one of the loud guys," he said. "... I've definitely picked up some speed and coordination."
This fall he will take up the next level of challenge as he heads to Texas as a freshman at Abilene Christian University. The choice was not accidental.
"A lot of our family are from Texas. Both my parents are from Texas," he said.
One of his cousins is at the school; his grandmother's ranch is a few hours away; and he has visited the school numerous times.
"I get full tuition with National Merit, plus there's, I think, a $2,500 scholarship," he said.
"Both my sisters went there."
He plans to study physics and computer science and praised the school as having a top-notch physics program.
Despite the Texas connection, he has no intention of abandoning his hometown in Alaska, he said.
Baldwin said he loves the outdoor recreation available on the Kenai Peninsula. He has been sledding on the Skyline Trail near Cooper Landing, boating and fishing on Beaver Creek and hiking all over. Fuller Lakes, Hidden Lake Campground, Captain Cook State Park and Bishop's Creek are among his favorite spots.
Even the winter has its appeal.
"I got into snowmachining this year, too," he said.
He and his dad purchased a snowmachine together last winter, but he had scant opportunity to use it. Now his dad is threatening to take it over while he is gone.
"My dad said he was going to crash it," he said with a chuckle. "I don't know."
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