A tribute to John Metz Baer, 1908-2006

July 15, 2006|by Guy Altieri

Last week, just seven and half hours short of his 98th birthday, John Baer died. He was one of Washington County's finest citizens.

Throughout his long and productive life in the county, he amassed a record of civic service few can equal. He unselfishly gave decades of service to many local groups and organizations, including the Boy Scouts, Chamber of Commerce, Board of Education, Maryland Sympathy Orchestra, Washington County Hospital, Downtown Rotary, United Way, Greater Hagerstown Committee and Hagerstown Community College.

He was, without question, one of the leading citizen pioneers who helped secure the land and the political support to build Hagerstown Junior College's (HJC then and HCC now) Robinwood Campus in the mid 1960s.

Over a span of more than six decades, he formally and informally was doing things to help HCC grow to become the strong and vibrant institution it is today. This coming September he was scheduled to join Dr. Atlee Kepler, as well as Lois and Dick Harrison, as the honorary co-chairs of HCC's 60th anniversary celebration. Death will not change our plans.


We will make certain that he is posthumously celebrating with us the success of the people's college he helped to promote and nurture. We will be certain that his easy laughter, sense of fairness and passionate optimism are well-represented in the college's diamond anniversary materials and activities.

John Metz Baer belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to all of us. When the sun now sets in Washington County, many will continue to grieve this recent loss of a wonderful family man, special friend, successful businessman and a superb and highly dedicated citizen of Washington County.

John Baer believed that everything happens for a reason and that good people can change their communities for the better, as he exemplified.

He believed that gentlemen should always do the kindest things, which he frequently did. He believed that people were basically good and had the right to a quality education, a good job and a loving family.

He believed that bigotry and prejudice were among the worst things a person could be guilty of. And because of that belief, he was one of the unsung heroes who led the way to desegregate the public schools in Washington County.

He deeply believed in the golden rule and the potential of all persons to serve the common good. As an accomplished world traveler, he believed that Washington County was not just a place in a very large world, but rather a very special place populated with many kind and generous persons who are quick to help others in need, as John so often would do.

For all who knew John Baer well, he will be remembered as the most sincere, honest, generous and hard working fellow you could ever meet. I'm told by his family and best friends that he was tenacious about his beliefs, and eternally optimistic about the future, including a deep-seated desire to see more unification of the world's great religions leading to world peace.

Although I had the pleasure of knowing John for only four years, I had the opportunity to have several wonderful conversations with him.

He was a terrific story-teller, and for someone who lived to the day before his 98th birthday he had many great stories to tell. I know that his deepest beliefs never had much to do with fashion or convenience. His convictions were always clearly stated, people-centered, and as firm and steady as the walls of his church or his beloved Professional Arts Building.

Now death has done all that death can do, John Baer has gone to join his Lord. We are left with fond memories of a very special person. HCC joins so many other community organizations that thank the Baer family for sharing John with all of us. His extraordinary legacy of service will continue to benefit the people of Washington County for many years to come. God bless John Baer and the family, friends, and county he loved so dearly.

Guy Altieri is president of Hagerstown Community College.

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