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Avon

At 93, still full of vim and vigor

Bernie Baher with one of his sculptures.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Bernie Baher with one of his sculptures.

When the polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, 93-year-old Bernard Baher expects to be there as an election warden, and barring the unexpected, he’ll still be there after the polls close 13 hours later — as he has for every election in the past 25 years.

Baher turns 94 in June and his sight is failing — he says he’s “legally blind in one eye and can’t see much out of the other” — but he’s betting he’ll be right back at Town Hall when the doors open for the next election.

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“I told everyone I was retiring, but I’m having second thoughts,” he said last week. “It’s something I’ve been doing for so many years. And it’s an interesting day. You meet a lot of people, and you help a few.”

Election wardens are technically in charge of polling at the town level and assist voters with any questions, according to Town Clerk Jean Kopke.

“They’re the only ones who can touch the ballot” other than the voter, Kopke said. “If someone messes up on the ballot, the warden can mark it as ‘spoiled,’ put it in an envelope, and give [the voter] a new one.”

Wardens also notify police if campaign politicking gets closer than 150 feet from the polling station. And the warden helps seal the ballot box and sign the papers that say an election is “complete and on the up and up,” Kopke said.

Baher, who looks far younger than his age with a full head of mostly dark hair, said he became a warden because a former town clerk asked him to. “I don’t know how to say no,” he said, adding that saying yes may be his secret to longevity.

‘I was going to get him a cake, but I guess not.’

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He also credits his far-reaching interests, which include sculpting, writing, playing the organ and harmonica, inventing devices, and advocating for vocational education on the local and national level.

Baher, a retired engineer, grew up in Illinois and came to Massachusetts in 1942 as a Naval ordnance officer stationed at Squantum Naval Air Base in Quincy. He met his first wife, Ruth Ball of Milton, at a roller skating rink in Neponset Circle and settled in Avon in 1951, raising three children there.

Back then the town had a population of 2,666 — compared with 4,356 by the latest census — and far less commercial development. Baher recalls that where the Christmas Tree Shops and other businesses now stand used to be a pig farm and open space.

Baher was busy with his job as a quality control engineer with Masoneilan in the 1960s when a friend asked him to run for the Avon slot on the School Committee of the new Blue Hills Regional Technical School. He said yes, and has been associated with the school ever since — serving on the School Committee for 22 years, founding and chairing the foundation that supports the school, and consulting.

He also had his first art show at Blue Hills in 2010, displaying the wood carving and sculpture he’s done since he was a 9-year-old. A sign on the exhibit said Baher hoped it would “encourage viewers to have a hobby to last a lifetime, for personal pleasure and the pleasure of others.”

Baher’s biggest sculpture, of an eagle, wasn’t in the show but can be seen above the doors of the Avon fire and police station. First installed in 1969, the pine eagle is 67 inches from wing tip to wing tip and decorated with 24-carat gold leaf. Baher dedicated the sculpture to his father, a retired fire captain in Joliet, Ill., and has reconditioned the piece twice over the years.

He’s also re-applied 125 sheets of gold leaf to the copper horse weather vane that used to be on top of the station’s cupola, and is now in his computer room while Blue Hill students rebuild the cupola.

The walls of the room are covered with photos and awards that Baher has received over the years, including a framed letter from President George H.W. Bush appointing him chairman of the National Council for Vocational Education in 1991.

Baher has written about his life in three self-published books: “I’ve Got a Little Story,” “I’ve Got More Little Stories,” and “The Torrie Wright Story,” a tribute to his second wife, whom he reconnected with while organizing their 60th high school reunion, after his first wife’s death.

The books are fact-filled reminiscences and include the memory of seeing Charles Lindbergh fly over his childhood home. Baher also lists the “celebrities/well known personages” he has met or seen, including John Phillip Sousa in a 1927 parade and inventor Harold Edgerton.

Baher also includes the two patents he received — for a “wall rack and tank scale” (a workshop accessory) and “level square and plumb tool” (a construction hand tool) — and lists of museums he visited and sports events he attended, his schools and honors, and classes he’s taught.

“One of the individuals who prompted this writing suggested that this section be called ‘No Moss’ because it indicates that I have always been active,” Baher wrote.

He plans to still be active when the next election rolls around, he said.

“I was going to get him a cake, but I guess not,” said Kopke, who is retiring from her elected town clerk position.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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