Baers a faint memory in history of FL area

Passing of Eugene Baer, 96, closes another chapter

The Henry and Margaret Baer family 12 years after their move to Hamel. In the back left to right are: Lee, Jerry, Loretta, Eleanor, Lucille and Eugene. Flanking mom and dad on the chair arms are Tom, left, and Bill, right. Seated in front left to right are Irene, Jim and Mary Ann. Jim was born after the family moved to Hamel. (Photo courtesy of Baer family)

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Ask nearly anyone in Forest Lake today if they remember the Baer family and the answer should not be surprising. Who’s that? It’s a family name not common in this area in 2012.

But the Baer family — Margaret and Henry and 10 of their 11 children — were among the families who moved to the area more than 100 years ago to put down roots. Some were successful and others, like the Baers, were not and were forced to pull stakes and try again somewhere else.

Such was the case with the Baer family, a family of German descent that farmed in the Wyoming area for more than two decades before several years of bad crops and the depression of 1929 brought the family to its knees in the early 1930s.

Today the Baer family is more and more a faint memory in the Forest Lake area. And last month, another chapter in the family story was closed with the death of Eugene W. Baer on Wednesday, April 18, just two months shy of his 97th birthday.

A Hollywood Exit

Eugene Baer was the fourth child born to Margaret and Henry Baer on a rented farm in Wyoming on June 17, 1915. The Baers had moved north from the Chaska area with a desire to try farming.

And farm they did. From the rented home place, the Baers moved on to buy a farm on the western shore of Comfort Lake.

Although living in Wyoming, the family, like many from that area of Chisago County, were Forest Lake people. They shopped here. Attended school and St. Peter’s Catholic Church here. Played here.

Gene Baer

Gene Baer remained in school in Forest Lake through the 10th grade. Thanks to a coach, he was recruited to the football team. He was able to play only after the coach gave the youth shoes to wear on the gridiron.

As a youth, Gene was good on his feet. At 15, he teamed with a sister, Eleanor, to win a waltz contest at a barn dance near Forest Lake.

But the good times came to an end in 1932 when the family lost the farm. But the Baers did not leave Forest Lake without some fanfare.

In what may have been the last cattle drive to ever hit Forest Lake, the family, led by father Henry and sons Gene and Lee, mounted horses at dusk and drove 50 head of cattle south down Highway 61 on a two-day drive that would end in Hamel west of the Twin Cities.

The cattle, which were not lost when the farm failed, were driven at night. During the first day, the Baers and the stock rested in a gravel pit before hitting the trail again for a second night which led them to a new, rented farm outside Hamel.

It was here that the family prospered, said Gene’s daughter, Marcia Thurmer of Aitkin. “They prospered with good soil, abundant deer, fish to spear and pheasants on fence lines,” she said.

Gene Baer never finished high school but turned his attention to the family farm. In the late 1930s and into the early 1940s, Gene and brother Lee, 10 months his junior, operated Baer Brothers Trucks. They ran a school bus route in the Wayzata area and also hauled ashes from downtown Minneapolis to disposal sites far west of the metro area.

The business ended in the early 1940s when brother Lee went into the service during World War II. Gene Baer was exempted from the service as he stayed at home on the farm.

As time marched on, Gene married and,  continued to farm in the Hamel area with his wife, Doris. They sold black dirt and gravel and eventually turned to real estate. As the housing market began extending to the west of the Twin Cities, Gene and Doris became developers, buying farms which were subdivided into home lots which were sold. Most of the work came in Wright County.

Thurmer says her father never forgot about his Forest Lake days and the life on the farm next to Comfort Lake. On one occasion when Thurmer was looking at a lake home to buy near Aitkin, her father remarked that the lake was remindful of Comfort Lake.

Gene Baer retired in 1990 at age 74. The couple would make occasional trips back to Forest Lake to see old family friends and some of Gene’s classmates. They were regular guests to class reunions for the class of 1933 which would have been Gene’s graduating class had he not been forced to move.

Gene Baer had managed to recover from a stroke and had been in relatively good health until he was diagnosed with cancer 12 days before his death.

A Mass of Christian Burial was on April 24 at St. Anne’s Church in Hamel with interment at the church cemetery.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Doris; and three daughters, Marcia, Linda Germar and Sheila Vaughan; three siblings; many other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents; seven siblings; and one son, Allan Baer in 2008.

As his health failed and his passing would not wait long, Marcia Thurmer said her father made one final request. It was to make sure his obituary would be published in the Forest Lake Times.

For the man who left Forest Lake at night on horseback drving cattle, the journey is now complete as another piece of Forest Lake’s history fades away.

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