One Man’s Call To Volunteer

Dick Bailar keeps busy around Jefferson County and at his Bavarian-style homeDick Bailar’s LegacyAn Unretiring Life Serving the Public Good

By Lazaro Aleman

You won’t find Dick Bailar’s name on the roster of state legislators, or even of elected officials, in Jefferson County. But you will find this retired minister’s imprint on many a legislative measure involving funding or other state aid for the fiscally constrained county. And you also will find him at the center of many a quasi-judicial group working for the social and economic betterment of the still largely rural community 26 miles east of Tallahassee.

Indeed, Bailar’s efforts over the years, in part or in whole, have resulted, among other things, in construction of a $400,000 facility for Jefferson County’s boys’ and girls’ scouting groups; the realization of millions in state and federal funding for the enhancement of affordable housing and the restoration and preservation of historic structures; and the state purchase of land at the head of the Wacissa River, a pristine body of water that the community wants preserved and protected.

Currently, Bailar is heading separate efforts to establish a countywide sanitary sewer system and establish an emergency operations center. The first would promote economic development and protect water quality by eliminating septic tanks, and the second would better prepare the Jefferson County for the eventuality of a natural or manmade disaster.

Amazingly, Bailar undertakes all these projects voluntarily, based on what he terms “an extension of my life’s ministry.

“My ministry has always been most comfortable when it addresses not, ‘Are you saved?’ but rather, ‘How are you spending yourself?’” Bailar said. “When all is said and done, does it matter one whit that you have walked this Earth? What have you done to help people be better clothed, better fed, better educated, and so forth? That’s our responsibility.”

The former minister served a Congregational church in Coral Gables for 25 years. Bailar retired to Jefferson County in 1991 after being told by his optometrist that he suffered from a degenerative eye disease that would leave him blind within a matter of years, and by his orthopedist that he would require surgery on both knees and might have to have one leg amputated.

Bailar, 78, laughs telling the story, although he has since undergone three knee surgeries and now is legally blind.

“Well, God, I was losing my eyes and I was going to be lame!” he said. “I said, ‘OK, Schatzi (his pet name for his German wife, Friedel – it means “little treasure”), this is the end. If I have only so much time left, I want to spend it with you.’ Within three months, I had retired and we came up here.”

Not one to sit around, even in retirement, Bailar immediately plunged into the design and construction of “Waldesruh” (“Tranquility of the Woods”), the couple’s imposing, almost 4,000 square-foot, two-story alpine manor house with a 28-foot-high cathedral ceiling, European-styled gilded birdcage elevator, hardwood floors, scroll-staved interior balcony, and large murals by Friedel both on the interior and exterior walls. A woodworker by avocation – he earned his contractor’s license at night school in Miami – Bailar over the succeeding years built another 13 architecturally correct Bavarian structures on the property, including a pub, dock house, gazebo and several guesthouses.

Today, to look at the beautifully manicured estate with its waterfowl-filled woodland pond and charming cottages, it’s difficult to imagine the largely wooded and overgrown five-acre tract that the Bailars purchased in 1979.

“Our first task was to clear and contour the land, as well as have a path cut into the property so that it could be accessed, and have electricity and a septic tank and well installed,” Bailar said. “That allowed us to hook up our small RV and spend our vacations there, weeding, cutting, chopping and dreaming.”

In 1985, during a five-month sabbatical leave, the Bailars, with the help of “a crusty curmudgeon of a carpenter,” constructed what was to be the village’s first structure, a small cottage that became their first home in 1991.

Looking back on the creation of the village, Bailar marvels that they ever attempted the project, let alone succeeded at it. Even today, the upkeep of the place demands a great deal of time and energy.

“At times, it seems a daunting task,” Bailar said. “But when the setting sun casts its golden glow on the shore of our pond, the two of us hold hands and whisper a fervent, ‘Danke, Leiber Gott’ (‘Thank you, dear God’).”     

As for his immersion in the local community, it began in 1992 when a former Jefferson County commissioner paid him an introductory visit.

“At the time, I didn’t even know what district I was in,” Bailar said. “But we had a wonderful conversation down by our dock, and he said, ‘What are you doing with your life?’

I said, ‘Well, I’m building, but I’m at a point where I need to do something, and I don’t know quite where I’m going.’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you come to our commission meetings? We’re a small county, and we need people to help us do things.’ And so I started going to the meetings and got hooked.”

Indeed, barring travel (he and Friedel get away every chance they get, notwithstanding his eyesight and knee problems), Bailar has attended commission meetings and workshops regularly for the last 15 years, to the point that some jokingly refer to him as the sixth commissioner. That’s because Bailar doesn’t simply attend, he participates, offering solutions and volunteering whenever called upon. 

“It’s not that I have these great talents,” Bailar said, “it’s just that a void is there to be filled. So there are these situations that arise and you say, ‘Fine, I’ve got the time. I’ll go see this senator, this representative, this department head,’ or whatever. And so you end up being the point man a lot of times, but you always have some really good committees and people who are working with you.”

On average, Bailar figures he spends about four hours daily on community work, whether it’s writing letters and e-mails, making phone calls, attending meetings or visiting with legislators, most of whom he is on a first-name basis with.

“We can’t refuse Dick Bailar,” state Rep. Will Kendrick, R-Carrabelle, likes to say.

“Dick is the guy who makes the wheels roll,” said County Commissioner Felix Joyner, founder of the Jefferson County Legislative Lobbying Committee, of which Bailar is a member. “He has no agenda. He does it for the love of this county.”

Bailar takes the accolades in stride. Gregarious, irreverent, erudite and a born raconteur, he is no newcomer to the halls of power, or to community involvement and controversy for that matter, as a quick review of his colorful life attests. A World War II infantryman and a CIA operative during the Cold War, Bailar, among other things, has parachuted out of planes; helped rescue individuals from behind the Iron Curtain; founded an interfaith organization; hosted radio shows; interviewed figures such as Presidents Kennedy and Nixon; met with President Carter and Pope John Paul II; marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and been written about by James Michener, late author of “Hawaii” and other bestsellers.    

Bailar has also had his detractors, been called a liberal and a troublemaker, and has had stones and rotten eggs thrown at him during marches.

“I think that anytime you get in the public arena and you take a position, you’re liable,” Bailar said. “Frankly, I’m not a confrontational guy. I would much rather meet with people and talk and lay issues out and try to find places to compromise and be ameliorative. You don’t like to back people into a corner. But sometimes you simply have to stand up for what you believe, and you have to go there, even if you’re scared.”

His take on his post-retirement community involvement is that, in the final analysis, it’s giving him back more than he is contributing.

“It’s giving me a raison d’etre,” Bailar said. “I have a reason for being. And I love it. I see myself as a facilitator. It’s exciting to see a need and then to cobble together a group of people to go and address that need.”

Categories: Archive