In Memoriam: The life of Professor Werner Baer

By Alex Rich

He said that we would meet sometime next week for coffee, that he expected to be out of the hospital by Friday.

But on Thursday, March 31, distinguished Economics professor and my personal friend Werner BaerRBpassed away following “a sudden and brief illness.”

Two days earlier, he had emailed me from Carle Hospital saying that he was hoping to be out by Friday.

As I write this piece, it is currently “sometime next week” when Professor Baer and I were supposed to have met.

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I was first introduced to Werner Baer three semesters ago when I took his ECON 103 Macroeconomics class during my first semester here at the University. I was a single person in a sea of hundreds of other students to see Professor Baer speak on the dullest of topics – Macroeconomics.

I will never forget that class due to the fact that our class absolutely dominated the University of Illinois Yik Yak feed. It seemed like every second there was someone in that class posting about Baer’s quirks (i.e. his sayings, his drawings, his dress) as he stood up on the stage and hand-wrote notes that were projected onto the large auditorium screen.

He was a strong believer in having students give their undivided attention and regularly come to class. It was very difficult to pass his class if you didn’t attend lecture because he didn’t post any of the class material online. Students were expected to know all of the major topics covered in lecture because he only did essay question tests.

At the end of my first semester, I decided that I was going to transfer to a school back home in Kentucky for the spring semester. When I went into the Economics Department in David Kinley Hall to meet with my advisor, I was told to wait until she made it back from lunch. As I waited, Professor Baer came into the room.

He saw me waiting and asked if he could help me. We got acquainted and I informed him of my intention to transfer back home.

He pleaded that I give the University another semester before I decided to transfer. When my advisor finally made it back from lunch, Professor Baer told me to meet with him in his office down the hall after I was finished.

But as I was talking to my advisor, Professor Baer burst in the room to inform me of another option, stopping-out, which meant I could come back to the University in the future.

I walked down the hall to talk to Professor Baer and ended up staying for quite some time as he tried to convince me to stay. He even offered me a spot on his annual trip with students to Brazil.

I told him that my decision to transfer was already set in stone. But in spite of this, he wanted to stay in touch.

We exchanged emails while I went to school back in Kentucky. And when I told Professor Baer of my plan to return back to the University for the Fall 2015 semester, he was ecstatic and suggested that we meet for lunch once classes started.

We would go on to meet various times throughout the semester for coffee and dinner. In one of our discussions, I brought up my interest in movies and I learned that he, too, had an interest in movies, especially classic and international ones.

Professor Baer said that he had an extensive library of movies at his house, and he asked if I had any interest in watching one of his movies sometime. That semester, I ended up watching three movies at his house. We watched some of his favorite Australian movies, “Breaking Morant” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and an old, American coming-of-age film, “Breaking Away.” We even went to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Krannert after he gave me a free ticket to go with him.

At the end of the semester, close to finals, we met for dinner and had an argument, and Professor Baer took offense to what I had said. We closed the fall semester on a bad note, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to talk to him again anytime soon.

During this semester, I went the first two months without speaking or emailing Professor Baer.

Then, right before spring break, I bumped into him at the ARC and we conversed about what had been going on in our lives. We were both on our way out and he offered to give me a ride home.

I took him up on his offer and we talked about meeting up for coffee sometime after spring break. On the Monday when classes started back up, I received an email from him saying that he was in the hospital and hoped to be out by Friday….

To my knowledge, he never married and did not have any kids. He leaves behind his sister who lives in Connecticut.

Thank you, Professor, for all of the good times that we had together. Thank you for your passion in your studies on South America. Thank you for your contributions to the field of Economics. Rest in peace, my friend.

Your friend,?Alex Rich