By MARK EVANS
Few faces have come to be more strongly associated with an issue in Ste. Genevieve than that of Vern Bauman and the fight against the rising Mississippi River.
Bauman, best known as one of the leaders of the heroic battle to save the city from the 1993 flood and for decades of service as president of Levee District No. 3, will serve as grand marshal of the 2021 Ste. Genevieve Holiday Christmas Festival Parade on Dec. 4.
“I feel honored,” Bauman said. “I’m sure there are more people who deserve it than I do.”
Bauman, 81, is still extremely active in the community. Born on Fourth Street in 1940, he has remained in Ste. Genevieve County, marrying his high school sweetheart, Geraldine “Gerry” Schwent, in 1962. They have been married 59 years and have four sons, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandson to show for the union.
During much of his life, baseball was a passion for Bauman, who was a standout pitcher.
A 1958 Ste. Genevieve High School graduate, he continued playing ball and excelling as a pitcher until he was well in his 30s. This was still in the era of former professional players peppering the rosters of many local amateur and semi-pro teams.
Bauman is remembered as throwing a wicked knuckleball.
“I threw it occasionally,” he said. “It scared everybody – including myself. We played a lot of baseball; we grew up with baseball.”
His father, Aloys Bauman, who ran Bauman Brothers excavating with his brother Ed, beginning in 1943, built a community baseball field in Zell – where they had moved when Vern was 6 months old.
“My dad built a ballpark at Zell, with lights, a parking lot, and showers,” he said, noting that the showers got their water from a nearby pond.
“We didn’t have county water then,” he said.
In 1970, Bauman bought out the asphalt portion of the family business.
In 1973, one of the worst floods in local history struck, with a crest of 43.3 feet ravaged the city. That wound up switching Bauman’s off-hours focus from baseball to flood prevention.
“The ’73 flood did me in,” he said. “That summer my house was in the water and I couldn’t play baseball that year. “
By the next year he was 34 and wound up hanging up his spikes.
That 1973 flood was pivotal in more ways than one.
“We really learned how to build levees and sandbag in ‘73” Bauman said. “That’s where we really learned how to handle the ’93 flood. We knew what we had to do. In ’73 we didn’t have enough protection around town. It got in my house on Second Street. We did sandbag a lot of the higher property after we lost the lower part. That was really a learning experience. Then, in ‘93 we knew how to organize it and what it took.”
The final 1993 crest of 49.7 feet has never been matched and Ste. Genevieve was plastered across national news outlets for weeks. Bauman himself was interviewed by Tom Brokaw and other nationally-known journalists.
Local photographer/videographer Bill Naeger captured an iconic image of Bauman with tears in his eyes after a levee gave way, causing a southern portion of the town to flood.