MISHAWAKA - Former Democratic state legislator and local businessman Burnett C. Bauer, father of current and longtime state Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, died Friday at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. The Granger resident and founder of Bauer Soft Water was 95.
Driven by his strong Catholic faith and a desire to improve the quality of life in Indiana, Burnett Bauer decided in his 40s to enter politics. Beginning in the mid-1960s, he served 10 years in the Indiana General Assembly, first as a representative and then as a senator. He also ran unsuccessfully in the 1971 South Bend Democratic mayoral primary, finishing third.
As a legislator, he introduced some of the first environmental legislation in the state. He pushed for tougher rules regarding the application of pesticides and a ban on DDT. He also authored a law, enacted in 1971, that limited the phosphate contents of detergents sold or used in the state.
Locally, he supported efforts to clean up the St. Joseph River and touted the benefits of natural foods and organic farming.
"He was from North Dakota and rural Minnesota, so he knew about clean air and clean water," Pat Bauer said. "So he learned about water and about air just by being out in cleaner environments."
A pro-life Catholic, Burnett Bauer nonetheless clashed with the Democratic Party on the issue of abortion. "The support of the leadership of the national Democratic Party of abortion on demand is contrary to the basic principles on which the party was founded, and, unless changed, will destroy the party," he said in a statement to the 1980 National Right to Life Convention in Anaheim, Calif.
After just one term as senator, Bauer lost the 1976 Democratic primary to South Bend resident Douglas Hunt. Hunt again defeated Bauer in 1980. The race was bitter. Bauer criticized Hunt for driving a foreign car. Hunt said it was built in Pennsylvania and accused Bauer of being "willing to claw anyone's face in your lunge for public office."
"In any political campaign you have sparks flying," Hunt, a partner with Holladay properties, recalled Monday. "We just ran against each other as opponents twice, and since I ended up winning, he, I suppose like anybody, was a little resentful.
"Certainly, when we saw each other in subsequent years, we were really cordial to each other," he added.
As a legislator, Pat Bauer described his father as a "hard worker" and a creative thinker.
"He was coming up with new ideas all the time," he said.
He said his father influenced his decision to enter politics.
"I learned you can make a difference," he said.
At home, Burnett Bauer was a supportive and loving father and an avid traveler, his son said. Pat Bauer recalled a family vacation to the West Coast.
"He (Burnett Bauer) won a station wagon for being the top Lindsay (Automatic Water Softener) dealer in the country." he said. "I think there were seven of us kids at the time. We took the station wagon from South Bend, Ind., to California, and boy, that was an adventure ... we stopped at every historical marker along the way."
Burnett Bauer also played the harmonica and liked to sing, his son said.
"He was very interested in everything," he said. "Music, culture, other countries, different languages, business ... everything."
Born July 23, 1916, in Underwood, N.D., Burnett Bauer attended Good Thunder High School in Good Thunder, Minn., and then the University of Notre Dame, where he played baseball and football prior to graduating in 1938.
After graduation, he enrolled in graduate school at the university. He met Helene Genevieve Cryan, a professor of speech and drama at Saint Mary's College, during that time. The two married on April 14, 1941, in Kalamazoo, Mich.
According to Pat Bauer, in attending Notre Dame, his father passed on a scholarship to the University of North Dakota.
"I just think Notre Dame fit into some world he had never known," he said, "plus he liked the intellectual challenge ... and the spirituality of it."
A Sagamore of the Wabash recipient in recognition of his service to the state, Burnett Bauer was a longtime member of Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend and was active in several local clubs and organizations. He and his wife co-founded the Christian Family Movement.
He also helped found St. Joseph's Catholic High School in South Bend and the former St. Mary's Campus School, his son said.
Aside from Pat Bauer, Burnett Bauer is survived by eight children, 18 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, four sisters, and one brother. He was preceded in death, in addition to his parents and Helene, by one daughter and his second wife, Vicky Kelly Bauer.
Staff writer Erin Blasko: