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Craig Bakner's largesse exceeded his largeness

June 01, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Craig Bakner, who died May 23 at the age of 52. His obituary was published in the May 26 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Craig Bakner was a big man - not just in size, but in every sense of the word.

Adored by his family and revered by his law enforcement colleagues and friends, Craig left behind a void when he died that never will be filled.

"He was the kind of police officer you would want to handle your call," said Lt. Rick Reynolds of the Hagerstown Police Department. "You couldn't have asked for a better person."

Rick said he was friends with Craig beginning in 1987, when they both were promoted to corporal at the same time.

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"When I made sergeant, Craig was my lieutenant. I learned a great deal from him," Rick said. "You never felt shortchanged with Craig."

Ron Graves, who retired in 2001, said Craig was a great police officer.

"You could always count on him," Ron said.

Although Craig had experienced some recent health problems, his death on May 23 at the age of 52 was a shock. After surgery to remove a brain tumor, Craig failed to recover as expected, his family said.

Despite the struggle to cope with the sudden loss of a son, a husband, a father and a friend, everyone gathered at Otterbein Church in Waynesboro, Pa., after the funeral celebrated Craig's life and legacy.

"When we worked together, everyone called us Yogi and Boo Boo," said Nelson Sheppard, who retired from the Hagerstown Police Department in 1990. Craig stood more than 6 feet tall and was robust; Nelson was comparatively small. "I think someone on the street started that, and then everyone picked up on it."

Terri and Rick Blair both are employed by the Washington County Sheriff's Department, where Craig began his law enforcement career.

"Craig had such a love of old cars," Terri said. One of his three classic cars - a black 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air - served as Rick and Terri's wedding car. Craig was their chauffeur on that occasion.

Terri and Rick's son, Graham, 11, has become familiar with Craig's cars during his young life and described them as "cool."

Lt. Mike King said he and Craig served on the same shift in the late 1990s at the Hagerstown Police Department.

"I was a sergeant then and he was the lieutenant," Mike recalled. When they were alone, Mike asked Craig for advice on how he should best work for him.

"Craig said we work together - you don't work for me," Mike said. "I always remembered that and tried to do the same in my career."

A well-developed sense of humor was a common thread in many of the stories shared about Craig at the celebration of his life.

Beth Poole, a former police clerk, recalled a time when Craig rigged a fellow officer's computer to blare out the "William Tell Overture" every time he logged on.

"It went on for a week," she said. Everyone was laughing, but Craig just sat there with no hint of his role in the joke on his face.

While Craig's family wasn't immune from his wry sense of humor, they knew where his heart truly was and how much he cared for them.

"The Bakner family was the 'Leave It To Beaver' family. They were so very traditional," said family friend Linda Warren, who has known Lesa and Craig since they were married almost 30 years ago.

"He was so proud of his family," Linda said.

Son Jonathan, now 23, said he figures he inherited his love of sports from his father, who also enjoyed playing ball.

"He was a great dad," Jonathan said.

The couple also has two other sons, Casey Robert Bakner of Greencastle, Pa., and Joseph Craig Bakner of Hagerstown.

The couple met at the Washington County Sheriff's Department when Lesa was working there in the summer, she said.

A pool party marked the beginning of a three-year courtship, which led to their wedding in 1978.

"We would have been married 30 years this June 17," she said.

Her first impression was that Craig was sweet and kindhearted as well as fun-loving. Their years together bore that out.

"He touched a lot of people, even the people in the hospital even when he was sick," Lesa said.

Craig's mother, Virginia, said he was her middle child.

"He was just as gentle as he was large in size," she said. "A wonderful son, he checked on me every day."

That included every Sunday in the eight years since his father passed away, when Craig made sure his mother never was alone.

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