Harold Baum was larger than life, bridging the gap between old and new Valmeyer — figuratively and literally.
“You just felt like he’d be around forever,” said Jim Richards, who worked many years with Baum in the Valmeyer School District. “He was quite a man.”
Baum, 81, of Monroe City, died Monday following more than a year of declining health due to congestive heart failure.
A lifelong educator, Baum served as superintendent of Valmeyer schools from 1960 to 1997.
He grew up in Monroe City and attended the one-room school there. It was at this same small country school that Baum began his teaching career in 1950.
“He never wanted to live anywhere else,” Craig Baum said of his father.
The schoolhouse has since been moved to a spot directly across from the current Valmeyer school complex, with plans to turn it into a museum showcasing the history of the local education system.
After a stint in the U.S. Army in which he served during the Korean Conflict as a member of the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, Baum resumed teaching at the one-room Walnut Grove School in Merrimac. After consolidation of the country schools, he taught sixth grade and was principal at Cedar Bluff School in Fults until 1960.
As Valmeyer superintendent, Harold Baum saw to it that hard work, kindness and responsibility meant something in his school district — starting with himself and extending to the teachers, parents and students.
“He said, ‘There is no such thing as bad kids,'” son Gary Baum recalls.
“He wanted to help every kid do their best,” son Craig Baum added. “He took it as a personal responsibility to see to it that every kid got their diploma.”
For Richards, who worked with Baum in the school district from 1966 to 1994, Mr. Baum was always there to help.
“He was always a man that was interested in the students and making sure the teachers were doing the best they could to help them,” Richards said.
Gary Baum said his father’s genuine interest in the students extended past their school years.
“The door was always open at home, too,” he said.
Probably the most impressive showing of Baum’s character came in the aftermath of the Flood of 1993, which devastated old Valmeyer and left the future of the village — and school — in doubt.
Gary Baum said his father took on the mission of rebuilding the Valmeyer school after the flood. This involved not only making many calls and attending any meetings he could as an administrator, but physically going out and working with his bare hands to get things done.
He coordinated the move of temporary trailers from an Indiana school west to Valmeyer, resulting in only a slightly delayed start time for that school year following the August flooding.
“And he was out there doing the work… digging the holes, pouring the concrete,” Gary Baum said.
“If it wasn’t for him, the current school wouldn’t be there,” he said. “He did so much after the flood. Whatever the job, Mr. Baum took care of it.”
In May 2011, the Valmeyer High School gym was renamed in his honor for all of his dedicated service to the district.
“Harold Baum’s impact during the time he worked at Valmeyer is immeasurable,” current Valmeyer school superintendent Eric Frankford said. “While I only had the pleasure to meet with Mr. Baum on a couple of occasions, he was always sincerely interested in the future of the school district and the community we serve.
“We are all touched by his years of dedication to the district and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Baum was also instrumental in community affairs throughout his life. He helped found the Monroe County Board of Health in 1960 and served as its chairman for 15 years. He helped form the Monroe County Planning Commission in 1964, serving as member, vice chairman and chairman over 21 years.
He also helped form the Fountain Water District in 1978 and served on its board until his retirement in December 2011. The water district provides service to customers in rural Monroe County who would not otherwise have access to water service other than private wells or cisterns.
Baum also served on the Monroe County Welfare Service Committee, Monroe County Planning Commission, Monroe County Zoning Board of Appeals, and Western Egyptian Advisory Board.
In 1997, Baum was inducted into the Senior Illinois Hall of Fame. He was also placed on the East-West Gateway Honor Roll for his service.
Some of his other passions included raising Black Angus cattle on the farm he and wife of 60 years Rosalie built in Monroe City.
Another endearing quality of Baum was the kind gesture of calling and wishing friends and current and former co-workers “happy birthday” every year on their big day.
“He would let you know that he cared, and that meant a lot,” Richards said. “He will be missed.”
Valmeyer Mayor Howard Heavner had this to say:
“Mr. Baum was one of those people you never felt comfortable calling anything other than ‘Mr.’ It is easy for me to say that I can think of no one I have worked with that I have had more respect for. He led by not just his words, but his actions. He set an example of leadership for us all to follow.”
Monroe County Clerk and former Valmeyer Mayor Dennis Knobloch echoed those sentiments.
“Harold devoted his life to educating the children of the community, from his early years as a teacher through the time he spent as superintendent,” Knobloch said. “Even though he is now gone, his efforts and dedication are reflected in the lives of all who pass through the hallways of the Valmeyer school.”
Visitation is 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. until time of service Saturday at Quernheim Funeral Home, Waterloo.
Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.
Burial will be at Monroe City Cemetery.