Henry Baerg is well known for 51 years of leadership with the RM of Laird: six as councilor and 45 as reeve. The story goes that when people left the RM, they noticed the roads weren’t as good. “Henry Baerg Road” is a living testament to that legacy.
Henry passed away on March 23, 2017. His family is another living testament to his legacy. A service that celebrated his life on March 27 was marked by fond remembrances of the 96-year-old. “He always had a lot of stories to tell!” said Toby Baerg, his youngest son.
Now it was the family’s turn to tell those stories. “Dad put his heart and soul into whatever he did, be it the RM, church, cemetery or school and farm. After he retired it was his woodwork and enjoying his grandchildren and great grandchildren,” was the shared sentiment from eight surviving children.
Henry attended the Mennon School and began farming at a young age. Even though there were tractors on the farm, he loved his favourite team of horses.
He farmed two sections of land. Three of the eight quarters were rented from his sisters. “One of Dad’s favourite things was swathing,” said Toby. “He always looked forward to starting swathing in the fall.”
Toby says the kids never got an allowance, but there was always food on the table. “We always had meat twice a day and we butchered our own meat, both beef and pork.” A space at the table was always available to anyone who stopped by at mealtime. The suspicion was, some of those visits were deliberately well timed.
Henry didn’t cook much, but occasionally on a Sunday night, he would pull out a frying pan. “He put lots of lard in the pan and fried up some eggs for us,” said Jacqueline Hinz, who read the tribute to her grandpa at the service. “Some remember how delicious those eggs were. Mmmm… bacon grease!”
Henry married Linda in 1944. Marilyn Lepp, their daughter, says he provided for his family very well. “When electricity came to our area Dad made sure Mom had the electrical appliances that would help to make things easier in the home,” she said. “I felt we were privileged to have these things – stove, fridge, deep freeze, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, etc.”
Marilyn says she was always touched by her Dad’s generosity. He would insist they fill up with gas before returning home to Alberta. She believes he will be most remembered for good roads, commitment and being fair to everyone in the RM not just the corner of the RM where he lived.
Henry first got into road building during World War II as a conscientious objector assigned to building roads near Jasper. He drilled the holes and placed the dynamite. When his parents retired from farming in 1948 and he continued farming, he told his Dad that if he was going to farm, he would need roads. His Dad asked what he needed. Henry said $500 for a grader. He got it.
He began serving the RM of Laird in 1950 and during his 45 years as reeve he was only contested in three elections. Roads were mainly dirt back then, some of them mere trails. Herman Fehr of Kelly Construction was the main road builder. At the service, Fehr confirmed to Toby that his Dad wasn’t just repairing roads. He was building new ones.
Henry was on the road a lot, checking gravel, putting in culverts and building roads. He always referred to culverts as pipes. His involvement was year round. In the winter, he plowed snow. “The RM was his thing,” Toby said.
“At her retirement they asked Mom how long 51 years was and she said a lifetime,” Toby chuckled. “He was gone a lot. He bought lots of new half tons. He traded them regularly because he put lots of miles on them.” Henry also enjoyed his coffee shops, whether they were in Langham, Hepburn, Dalmeny or Waldheim. “All the coffee shops knew him.”
Henry retired from farming in 2000, the same year he retired from the RM. He moved to Spruce Villa in Dalmeny but still loved going back to the farm every day.
This is when woodworking became his hobby. “Our homes have a collection of banana stands, baking racks, toy puzzles, bird feeders, ladder chairs, flowers, reindeer planters, and the list goes on,” said Hinz.
Grandson Larry and his wife Janelle now live on the Baerg Centennial Farm with their sons Ryder and Tatum. Larry’s favourite memory was the time he saw Grandpa sitting on the kitchen floor holding Ryder as a baby and saying to him, “Your daddy works lots, I did too. I wasn’t always around for my kids or grandkids but I’ll be here for you. I love you!”
1981 was a tough year for the Baerg family. Their eldest son Jim died suddenly in April after
a bad fall. In September, Dorothy’s husband Ron passed away in a tragic vehicle accident. Both were in their mid-thirties.
Henry served on the Mennon school board until the school closed in 1965. He also served on the Regional Health Board for many years as the RM representative. Henry and Linda had a deep faith in God that was expressed both through financial and practical support.
Marilyn said although the family will miss Henry, he’s in a better place. “Dad was ready to go but the hard part is seeing him failing. The good part is he had a large family so we have each other.”
When Marcy’s son was about five years old they were driving to the farm one day. Shortly after they turned off Highway 12 onto what is now the Henry Baerg Road, he sat up, looked out, and said ” Mom if they would pave this road, it would be a highway.”
Henry Baerg has made his final trip down Henry Baerg Road. All his roads are paved now.