MORRIS – When one hears the name Jim Baum, most who have lived in the Morris area for years think of Baum’s department store in downtown Morris. Some think of his work as a board member for various organizations, others think of his philanthropic activities.
Amazing, passionate, organized, trusted – these are words used by friends to describe Baum.
“Characteristics of Jim that contributed to his accomplishments include creativeness, leadership and time management,” said Jack Hynds, friend and business partner with Baum.
Who Baum is today stems from a life filled with experiences – things that many don’t know about him.
Baum said he had a lovely childhood in Morris, despite expectations placed on him as the son of a well-known retailer.
“I sensed early to keep my head down, that’s served me well over the years,” Baum said. “I found it was good to be on the conservative side.”
Despite his attempt at being conservative, he was, after all still a kid.
“The third floor of my parents store was a ballroom, where the high school held dances,” he said. “My best friend, Ron Golimowski, worked at our store as a janitor, and we went up to the third floor with water balloons and threw them on Liberty Street. My dad would have been mad if he ever found out, but we never got caught.”
Golimowski’s parents played a key role in his childhood as Baum’s Boy Scout leaders and mentors.
“I was big into Boy Scouts, some things I learned there changed my life,” he said. “I was more comfortable sitting at the Golimowski’s kitchen table than I was my own.”
Things changed for Baum between his junior and senior year of high school, when after not doing well on his college entrance exam, his parents decided to send him to Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind.
“It was a humbling experience going from what I expected my senior year to be, from dating the smartest girl in school and playing in the band, [to] going from a potentially big deal to a plebe in a military academy,” Baum said. “Despite it being humbling, I liked the discipline and the structure of it.”
Baum said some would be surprised to learn he spent five years in high school.
He started taking some college-level classes during his fifth year at Culver and before long was preparing to go to Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
His time in college was filled with activities, including the Dartmouth Outing Club, which appealed to the Boy Scout in him. They participated in hiking and camping, and provided community service cleaning up part of the Appalachian Trail.
He worked on the fire department during those college years and spent many a Saturday night as a dispatcher for both the police and fire departments on campus.
He met his wife, Carol, while attending Dartmouth, at the time an all-boys college. She was attending Mount Holyoke College ináSouth Hadley, Mass., an all-girls college.
They dated during their college years, and although they are the same age, Baum said she graduated a year before him because of his fifth year of high school.
She went on to work in New York City doing plant research after majoring in botany.
Baum was a government major, and felt he wanted to become a city planner. He earned the Ford Foundation Grant to take classes at MIT and went to work as a junior city planner for the town of Boston.
“I walked almost every street in Boston,” he said. “I had no interest in design though, I had a professor who looked at the social economics of big cities, that is what interested me.”
His dream of being a city planner was rivaled by his dream of being an U.S. Infantry officer.
With the Berlin Wall Crisis of 1961, Baum found himself being called to duty.
“Carol was in New York City, I was in Boston when I had orders to report,” Baum said. “Carol said, ‘I’ll be damned if I wait,’ and we planned and got married in two months.”
He recalls telling his mother-in-law the night before that he was going to Europe and he couldn’t take dependents with him. He said she was not very happy with that arrangement.
Jim and Carol reported to Fort Benning, Ga., and he was soon shipped off to Germany.
“I spent two years smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and sleeping under tanks,” he said. “Best thing I’ve done is quit smoking.”
Return to Morris
While stationed in Germany, he met another officer who was headed back stateside with his wife, and Baum was able to secure their much sought-after apartment and Carol joined him for the rest of his military obligation.
He intended to return to Boston and work as a city planner, but his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Baum found his way back to Morris.
“When I got back to Morris people would run into me and say, ‘Hey Jim good to see you, when are you leaving?’ One person was quoted saying it would be a good idea if I went back where I got my ideas from out East,” Baum said.
He was involved with the first zoning ordinance in Morris, and for four or five months he would get crank calls at all times of the day and night.
“Whoever made one of the calls must have done laundry early in the morning because they’d call and set their phone down next to the clothes washer,” Baum said.
He said he was told by a local attorney to not worry about what they were saying because he would develop thick skin.
“I’ve often worried about that statement,” Baum said. “I don’t think our skin should need to get thicker. The things that upset us should upset us.”
Not everyone wanted Baum to go back East though. He quickly became ingrained in Morris’ development professionally, philanthropically and personally.
He became friends with Jack Hynds, a childhood neighbor, and the two became fast friends and business partners.
“Although Jim and I were born and raised in Morris, lived within six blocks of each other growing up and are only one year different in age, we didn’t become friends until we both came back to Morris in the mid-60s after completing our education,” Hynds wrote in an email to the Morris Daily Herald. “During the past almost 50 years we served together on many boards, started and operated several business ventures and developed subdivisions in Morris. It has been a close, comfortable and trusting relationship.”
The next chapter
The Baums are retiring to New Hampshire this month to start what Jim calls the third chapter of his life.
“I never appreciated how many people we touched until we announced we were leaving,” Baum said. “We’ve gotten many cards, some from people who were our customers. You never know who you hurt and who you help.”
Retirement, however, doesn’t mean sitting in a rocking chair watching life go by.
Baum has bought part of Moose Mountain outside Hanover and is creating a conservation area complete with hiking and cross country trails. Returning to the outdoor life along the Appalachian Trail he enjoyed in college.