Herman Baar Biography

by Linda Post

 

Herman was born in New York (either Mt. Vernon or Manhattan, we're not sure which) on No­vember 24, 1911, to Arthur and May Baar Solomon. He had a brother, Arthur Jr., who was two years older; Margaret—later known as Miggs—was born two years after Herman.

Herman's grandfathers were both rabbis who emigrated to America with their families in the late 19th century; the Baars from Germany and the Solomons from France (Alsace-Lorraine). Herman was named after his maternal grandfather, Herman Baar, who moved to New York City to run the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Herman's father, Arthur, whose dream was to perform in vaudeville, started out sup­porting his family by working in his brother's successful investment firm.

 

 Miggs, Herman, Arthur, Jr.

 

As a child, Herman was smart, obedient, imaginative, witty and fastidious. It's fair to say that the seeds for the counselor shows were planted in his childhood years when Herman and Margaret (not yet known as Miggs) spent hours, days, years playing make-believe, putting on shows. They always collaborated. All three Solomon children were avid theater­goers from an early age, though Arthur Jr. would have nothing to do with the "silly, amateur, ridiculous" theater productions his younger siblings were putting on at home. The other passion all three children shared was baseball and, eventually, politics and his­tory. Nothing could stop them from going to a Giants game (in the case of Miggs, not even school). As a child, and later as an adult, Herman was the closest to his mother and the least rebellious. In later years, Herman became a Mets and Yankee fan.

 

    Despite the fact that both of their fathers were rabbis, Her­man's parents never belonged to a synagogue indeed; Arthur Sr. loved to dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas for all the neighbor­hood kids in Mt. Vernon! May Baar was an ardent Zionist with deep roots in Jewish culture and history. Though not religious herself, she created the ritual and service that took place at Weno­nah every Friday evening from the camp's inception. She became active in The Ethical Culture Society which espoused the humanist values she passed on to her children

 

Hard times, divorce, and the birth of Wenonah

 

Herman's father hit hard times after his brother died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 and the in­vestment firm failed. Arthur Sr. struggled unsuccessfully to find other ways to support his family and finally, he and May Baar divorced. She reclaimed her maiden name and founded Camp Wenonah. Her good friend, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, helped her get the loans and backing she needed to buy the land and equipment, to clear playing fields and grade roads, and to build bunks, docks, the Main House and other structures.

 

Herman attended Ethical Culture, Riverdale High and Harvard College. Getting into Harvard was no small feat at that time because of the strict quota limiting the number of Jewish students. He played baseball (a pitcher) briefly at Harvard, sang in the Glee Club and graduated Summa Cum Laude in three years with a degree in economics. From college, Herman moved to New York City where he lived at The Olcott with his mother and began composing music with hopes of forging a career on Broadway.

 

Herman's dream was interrupted, however, by World War II. He joined the Army and was as­signed first to the Signal Corps, and later to deliver food and entertainment to the troops in Europe. When the war ended, he returned to New York, got back to composing and dropped the "Solomon" from his name. This was a strategic decision—Herman thought "Herman Baar" was a better name for a composer. During the summers, Herman began working at Wenonah.

In 1949, May Baar died suddenly and Herman took over as Director of Wenonah. This wasn't the path he had chosen, yet it was a destiny he embraced with grace, competence, ease and the help of Ada Somsby and his sister, Miggs.

Herman becomes a husband and father

 

Carol and Herman

Three years later, in 1953, Herman met Carol Calvin and fell madly in love. (He had actually known Carol when she was a little girl because he briefly dated her sister, Marjorie.) When Herman married Carol, she was a widow with three sons , 6-year old Ken, 4-year old Peter, and 2-year old Roger. The Baars bought a home in Westport, Connecticut, Herman adopted the three boys, and he commuted to the Wenonah office in New York City. Once Herman married Carol, his life, of course, changed dramati­cally. He was now a husband and father of three. He had a family of his own, beyond the Wenonah family. He and Carol built the cottage at Wenonah. Carol was a stay-at-home mom during the school year and she came to camp in the summer with hopes of being the camp "mom." Things didn't really work out that way—after all, Ada was already filling that role and do­ing a magnificent job. It would have been impos­sible for Carol to step into Ada's shoes, even if she'd had a talent for the job.

In the early 1960s, Herman and Carol moved to Sarasota, Florida, because Carol couldn't take the cold Connecticut winters. By this time, Ken was in college at Wesleyan (he eventually got his law degree and a doctorate in Urban Planning), Peter was in special boarding schools because he had severe learning and emo­tional problems, and Roger was in high school. (Roger even­tually graduated from Duke and ended up in Northern Cali­fornia where he builds electric cars and installs solar panels on a large scale). In Sarasota, in 1968, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer, her first bout with cancer.

An era of change

During the 60s, a confluence of things/events impacted Wenonah and Herman's ability to run the camp. Ada retired, leaving no one in the New York City office; Carol's health was poor and she didn't really like being at Wenonah; Miggs was completely out of the picture (though she still wrote the "book" for the counselor shows so Her­man could write the music and lyrics; and perhaps most importantly, summer camps were undergoing a big change. It was the 60s, after all, and there was pressure to loosen up on everything. Wenonah-style uni­forms, strict rules, rigid programming and old-fashioned rituals (like marching for flag-raising to John Philip Sousa!) were being replaced by freedom of choice. Kids were growing up fast and they didn't want grown-ups telling them what they could and couldn't read, what kind of music they could listen to, at what volume.

Unable to adapt to changing demands, without Ada's help and without emotional/moralsupport from Carol, Herman started to lose campers. He borrowed money to stay afloat and built a large, expensive theater next to the Main House, but enrollment kept dropping. In a last ditch effort to save Wenonah, he merged with Camp Woodlands, an experiment that lasted only two years. Herman rented the camp out to an organization that provided a camping experience to inner city kids, but that, too, failed. Finally, faced with bankruptcy, Herman sold the camp and the land to the owner of Skylemar for a song, in 1972.

After retiring from camping, Herman spent time at first traveling with Carol and playing golf He became involved in the music scene in Sarasota, serving on the Board of the new philharmonic orchestra and writing a weekly music column for the local paper. As time went by, more and more of his life was devoted to taking care of Carol who was bedridden, on and off, with cancer and other illnesses for 25 years. Herman also became a grandfather—Roger had a daughter, May, in 1980.

Herman's later years

When Carol died in the late 90s, Herman moved to a new apart­ment in Sarasota, found a girlfriend, remained active in the commu­nity and rebuilt relationships with his children, all of which had been frayed by Carol's unwillingness to accept the paths her children were taking.  

 Herman and Natalie Freund

Herman was a model of good health until 2005 when his heart started to fail. Once it became difficult for him to go outdoors with­out a walker, his children convinced him to move to Arcata, Califor­nia, and live with Roger. In Arcata, Herman was unquestionably a fish-out-of-water. It was cold. There wasn't a lot of culture (at least what Herman would define as culture.) Yet, he managed to befriend Roger's friends, go to concerts whenever he could and enjoy his life.

 Herman and great-grandaughter May

In the winter of 2006, Herman took a fall and broke his hip. After this, his health deteriorated quickly. He stayed home with Roger, getting in-home care, never leaving the hospital bed they rented. He watched sports on TV—golf, tennis, foot­ball, baseball. He enjoyed cheese, crackers and a drink before dinner with a few young pals who came to visit. He adapted to the vegetarian, salt-free, basically flavor-free diet Roger in­sisted he follow. He was allowed ice cream every night for des­sert (a ritual he shared with his sister who, in her later years, never went a day without ice cream). He could make a joke or talk about politics, world events, sports, theater, history or We­nonah (both campers and counselors) happily, in vivid, rich de­tail to the end.

 Roger Baar and granddaughter Emma

Herman died on September 11, 2006, just 4 months short of 95, surrounded by young, caring friends. And five months later, his great-grand-daughter, Emma, was born.