Millie Baier remembered for her 'class, grace and hospitality'

PAXTON — While working alongside her husband, Maurice, in the funeral business for 50 years in Paxton, Millie Baier always seemed to find a way to bring comfort to families mourning the loss of a loved one.

There was her warm smile, her calming demeanor, the dignity with which she carried herself.

“Millie Baier was the epitome of class, grace and hospitality,” the Rev. John Hauck said. “You always felt at home in her presence.”

Mrs. Baier, who died unexpectedly last Wednesday at age 88, exuded such qualities throughout her decades of work at the Ford-Baier Funeral Home, Hauck said.

And those same qualities showed in everything she did — whether it was providing food for church functions or even handing out candy to kids on Halloween, Hauck said.

“Many people told her that she reminded them of Bea Arthur, who was Mom in the television series ‘All in the Family’ and then went on to be Dorothy in ‘The Golden Girls,’” Hauck said. “Millie always found some humor in that but also felt honored by that comparison.”

Hauck called Mrs. Baier — a lifelong Paxton resident — a “pillar of the community of Paxton for decades.”

“She touched the lives of so many people in her family and in the community of Paxton,” Hauck said.

That was apparent by the long lines of people attending her visitation Sunday at Baier Family Funeral Services, and by the near-capacity crowd attending her funeral Monday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church in Paxton, where she had been a member for many years.

“The people here were her life,” said Hauck, who led the funeral service. “She poured her life into this community and considered everyone to be a part of her family. You can look around and see she had a really large family ... because she made everyone feel welcome and at home wherever she was.”

A true Paxton lifer
Mrs. Baier spent her entire life in Paxton except for a short time in Rantoul, from where she graduated high school in 1946, Hauck said.

“In fact, (her son) Royce told me that Millie was the first baby born at the Paxton Community Hospital after they opened the OB ward there back in 1928,” Hauck said. “And she passed away in Paxton just down the road from there at Heartland (Health Care Center).”

According to Hauck, Mrs. Baier “loved this community and its people so much that she didn’t even want to leave — she didn’t want to travel.”

“When Maurie wanted to get away, Millie wanted to stay home,” Hauck said.

‘Millie ran the show’
The daughter of Angelo and Helen Bourjos Stephanou, Mrs. Baier married her husband in 1951. She would assist him in the funeral business for 50 years.

Even after her husband died in December 2000, Mrs. Baier continued working at the funeral home, which is now called Baier Family Funeral Services and is now operated by their lone son.

Mrs. Baier “wasn’t just a funeral director’s wife,” though, Hauck said.

“Millie ran the show,” Hauck said. “And I could tell that from the first time I walked into that funeral home.”

Former Paxton Record Editor Dave Hinton recalled how Mrs. Baier “always seemed to be happy and had the perfect demeanor for a funeral home director —  someone who empathized with the family of the deceased but was always dignified.

“She was a classy lady,” Hinton said. “Even when we were on deadline I’d always enjoy talking to her when she called in obituaries. She was fun to talk to and she knew exactly the order all the information needed to go in the obit.”

‘Gracious and classy’
Hauck said the first time he met Mrs. Baier was more than 16 years ago, when he became pastor of the Loda United Methodist Church.

“I got a message to call the Baiers as one of our church members had passed away,” Hauck said. “You could even tell over the phone how gracious and classy of a lady she was. Then I had the joy of meeting her at the service a few days later.”

After Mrs. Baier’s husband died, Chet Travis, who was the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Paxton at the time, told Hauck how “very professional” Mrs. Baier was when she called him to tell him the news.

As was typical with any death the funeral home would handle, “Millie was very casual on the phone and very professional on the phone when she called Chet and said, ‘Chet, it’s Maurie (this time),’” Hauck said. “She was a very classy and professional lady.”

A life of service to others
Mrs. Baier spent her entire life serving others — “from the time she was old enough to work in her father’s candy shop,” Hauck said.

“She’d help make the candy and box it up,” Hauck said, “and she later worked at their restaurant down in Rantoul.”

Hauck said that later in life, Mrs. Baier “came back to her candy roots” when she started giving away full-sized candy bars to kids every Halloween.

“I had wondered why we didn’t get a lot of the kids coming by our house, and then I found out why — because they all went to the other side to Millie’s house,” Hauck said. “The Baiers would have 500 to 700 kids come by every Halloween to get those candy bars. It was another example of her generous hospitality.”

Others in the community, Hauck said, may remember Mrs. Baier as the “poppy lady.” Baier was in charge of selling poppies on behalf of the Paxton American Legion Auxiliary for many years.

Mrs. Baier was also involved in many other community groups and activities, including the Paxton Woman’s Club, the Prospect Chapter No. 367 of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Ford County Historical Society. Mrs. Baier also at one time served as a Paxton school board member.

Mrs. Baier was also an active member of the First United Methodist Church in Paxton.

“She attended here and was active in the ministries of the church until her health issues just prevented her from being able to be here on a regular basis,” Hauck said. “She would provide food for church functions, especially for funeral dinners that the United Methodist Women provided.”

For the love of family
Hauck said that although Mrs. Baier considered herself to have an “extended” family around her in Paxton, she also “loved her immediate family very much, especially her grandsons, Joel and Jeremy,” who grew up next door to her.

“She was so thankful that they were able to be a part of her life,” Hauck said. “Not many children get to grow up next door to their grandparents.

“She did have rules, though. (Her son) Royce told me (the grandkids) weren’t allowed to ride their bikes across her lawn. She was very particular about keeping the lawn looking nice.”

‘Greek stubbornness’
In her personal life, Mrs. Baier was “pretty reserved about a lot of things,” Hauck said.

“Maybe that was because of her Greek stubbornness,” Hauck said. “She didn’t want anybody to fuss over her, and she always thought about others before herself. And so when she wasn’t feeling well, she often wouldn’t even tell her family until it got to the point when she had to. I almost always heard that Millie had been in the hospital after she had returned home.

“When I heard that she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago from (Royce Baier’s wife) Sheila and then went to Heartland to see her, she finally told Royce and Sheila that she hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months.

“This last illness she had was a short one, but it was hard for Royce and Sheila to watch her go downhill so quickly, to lose her so quickly.”

Always Millie — to the end
Hauck said he visited with Mrs. Baier at the nursing home several times in the week before her death.

“Even while at Heartland, she continued to be full of grace and hospitality,” Hauck said. “She was sleeping a lot, but when she did wake up she was always cordial and hospitable to those who were in the room. I remember when Pastor Colleen (Lawrence) from the Federated Church came in, it almost looked like Millie was trying to get out of bed to welcome her into the room. She was just so used to being on her feet and greeting people and making them feel at home.”

Hauck said that the last visit he had with Mrs. Baier was on the day of her death, and he could tell that she was not herself.

“I’m glad that she didn’t have to suffer long,” Hauck said.

Hauck said Mrs. Baier’s legacy will live on.

“She lived her life in this world serving others in the presence of the Lord and set an example for all of us of love, humility, grace and hospitality,” Hauck said.

Categories (3):News, Living, People
Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County


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markcarter wrote on December 08, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Michael K. Brown, 19, of Paxton, was arrested Monday, May 23, for theft (less than $300) for allegedly stealing from his employer.