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Feature on Ralph Baumann. Topic: SPORTS & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in November, 1997


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Recently, the Wilson Memorial Hospital celebrated the opening of its new outpatient care center. In recent articles in The Sidney Daily News, the major events in the history of the hospital have been recalled. Chief among those was the donation by Judge Harrison Wilson's family of the 27 acre parcel of real estate on which the present building is now located. The name of the hospital constantly brings to mind the charity of the Wilson family. Long forgotten by most was the ultimate sacrifice made by the Baumann family of Sidney in supporting the same cause sixty-six years ago. This is the story of Ralph 'Pee Wee' Baumann.

In 1928, members of the late Judge Harrison Wilson's family donated 27 acres of the family farm as a site for the future hospital, with the hopes that their efforts would spur support for the building of the hospital the community sorely needed. Prior to that time, what passed as Sidney's hospital was located above the county's boiler room, adjacent to the county jail. Two years would pass before sufficient funds were raised to build the facility.

When the hospital opened, C. M. Fogt, president of the board, stated at the dedication ceremony on September 7, 1930: "How well this institution will succeed in carrying out its only purpose, that of relieving human suffering, will depend upon the support we all give, the amount and kind of effort we all put forth and the good will we manifest from this time on..."

As the board and staff learned, raising operating funds for the fledgling enterprise would be an oft-repeated exercise. In the very next year, volunteers organized an effort to collect money.

Earlier in the fall of 1931, a football between the semi-pro Sidney Merchants football team and a team composed of Sidney High School alumni and ‘old timers’ had raised money for the city welfare fund. The events was staged by the IUTIS Club. The fund was used to assist those unemployed as a result of the Great Depression.

"Zack" Crusey, the mellifluous sports writer of The Sidney Daily News, apparently noted the success of the IUTIS event. He was the chief architect of the idea of a charity football game between the alumni football players of Sidney High School and Holy Angels. All the proceeds would benefit the new Wilson Memorial Hospital. With Crusey heavily involved, the event would not suffer from a lack of dramatic promoting.

In announcing the game in the evening edition on November 13th, Crusey gushed: "I cherish the thought of watching these honor gridiron grads line the field again. I can't mention one outstanding race horse-legged scintillate with brains and brawn and do justice to the remaining group." (In what was to turn out to be a tragic irony, Crusey also reported that evening on a Florida football player who suffered a serious neck injury in a game). This game was to be played on Saturday, November 21st.

Zack Crusey set about hyping the game as he had no other. In the week before the tilt, he noted how "Particular effort has been accumulated in securing the top notchers of both alumnis to cavort in the forthcoming struggle..." Zack promised that the game "...will arm one with a reminiscent glow. It's going to be smoke with good football."

A number of team captains and some college talent was slated to be on the football field during the game. Jimmy Zimmerman and Gussie Palmisano played for the University of Dayton Flyers. Bernard McCashen and George Collins were Ohio University Bobcat players. Former team captains Pee Wee Baumann, Will Holder, Johnny Casey and Johnny Salm were returning to bolster the Holy Angels Titans.

Pee Wee had graduated from Holy Angels High School in 1928. His brothers, Bill and Dick Baumann, still reside in Sidney. Other than perhaps as a reference to his relatively short stature, they cannot recall why he was called Pee Wee. Despite his height and slight build, he played football all four years, and captained the team in 1928. After finishing school, he accepted a position as an assistant bookkeeper at Wagner Manufacturing. Bill recalled that life was good for brother Ralph. He liked his job, and he was engaged to a fine young lady named Gilletta Wolf.

Just a few days before the big game, Zack Crusey began to beat the drums with increasing intensity. In the Wednesday edition of the Daily News, he wrote: "Just picture in your mind two combinations who play football in the same cutting, slashing style, who put a swagger and a swing into the thunder that they cut loose and who face each other as evenly matched as one might hope to expect." Crusey predicted a "gifted confab of high promise."

Even the Sidney High School band, which was to play at the contest, caused Crusey to wax poetic: "The stirring songs and marches that they render have a power of enchantment about them that makes one acclaim these dispensers of intoxicating melodies of Sidney High as unparalleled as any scholastic institution."

According to his brothers, Pee Wee looked forward to the game, even though they questioned why he would want to play and risk injury. Dick, who was only eight years old at the time, planned to attend the game. Bill went hunting with friends.

Before the game, Crusey did his best to fire up the Sidney High 'orange and black' (Sidney's colors then), by crowning the Holy Angels Titans players "Helmeted gridiron immortals!" He predicted the stalwarts for Sidney, including Louie Kritzer and Freeman Cromer, would have their hands full. Crusey's tactics were successful, as the stands at Julia Lamb field were nearly full as the game began.

Cecil Watkins reported on the game for the Daily News the next day. The defenses dominated the first half of play. Just before the end of the first half, Watkins reported that "...the old game was robbed of its scoreless tie." Bob Frazier, taking a nearly errant snap from the center, found Carl Linthicum in the back of the end zone for a Sidney High score. A Frazier to George Collins pass was good for the extra point. Sidney's seven to zero lead would hold until half time.

The Orange and Black alumni scored twice more in the second half, and the former Holy Angles Titans once, but the second half action became meaningless, both to the players and the fans.

To open the second half, Holy Angels defended the south goal and kicked off to Sidney. Dick Baumann recalled that Pee Wee was on the kick off team for the Titans. He lined up to the left, and was the first player to reach George Collins, the Sidney kick returner. At about the forty yard line, near the home side of the field, Pee Wee dove for Collins and was blocked out by another player. His head struck the turf at an angle. He lay motionless as the action moved downfield. A stunned silence engulfed the stands.

Pee Wee was transported to Wilson Memorial Hospital by ambulance. The family gathered at the hospital. Gale Crusey summoned Pee Wee's brother Bill from the hunting fields. Pee Wee Baumann lay paralyzed from the neck down. X-rays taken revealed the third cervical vertebra was "pushed out of place." The news made the headlines of the Daily News in the next edition: "Baumann Condition Very Critical."

Dayton and Cincinnati specialists, immediately called in for consultation, confirmed the serious, permanent injury. According to the Daily News, these doctors had never encountered a similar injury where the vertebra had been thrown forward. Through it all, Pee Wee remained conscious. The Daily News noted that the accident "has cast a deep pall of gloom over the entire city."

The brothers remembered that later in the day the doctors attached a weighted device to his head that was shaped like a football helmet. Pee Wee's sister, Mrs. Larkin, arrived to lend her talents as a nurse. As the next several days passed, everyone in the town waited and prayed. As he lay motionless, Pee Wee prayed as well. Bill Baumann remembers that family members never left his side, and slept in his room.

Five days later, on Thursday, things turned for the worse. About 4 p.m., Pee Wee's temperature began to rise rapidly to over 108 degrees . By 4:45 a.m. the next morning, he was gone.

The Shelby County Democrat reported that "Grief was widespread over the death of Ralph Baumann..." As was the local custom then, his body was placed on a funeral bier in the family's home at 732 South Miami Avenue. Hundreds of mourners were received by the family members. Bill and Dick Baumann remember that their parents, William and Margaret, were devastated. Margaret Baumann died just two years later.

The sadness of the end of such a young life was deepened by the fact that he had died working for a cause to help others. This thought was not lost on Father Fortman, who gave the eulogy during the Requiem High Mass. He praised the fine Christian character of Ralph Baumann, and emphasized that his untimely death came in connection with his efforts to raise money for the hospital. Hundreds attended the Mass, including both teams en mass. All of the members of the Sidney High and Holy Angels Football Mothers Clubs were present as well.

In a bit of tragic irony, he had died in the very hospital for which he had expended his final efforts to raise money for its use. Over the years since the events of that bleak day in November of 1931, the tragedy has been largely forgotten. For all the members of the Baumann family, however, Wilson Memorial Hospital will always stand as a memorial to Pee Wee Baumann. 

n April, 1998, the Shelby County Historical Society unveiled a commemorative marker which honors Baumann, who died from injuries suffered in a 1931 Lehman-Sidney alumni football benefit for the Sidney hospital. This open house which was attended by members of his family (including brothers Bill and Dick) was held at the new outpatient care/occupational therapy center at Wilson Memorial Hospital. Wilson is located near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and SR 47 in Sidney.

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The power plant had the distinction of serving as the county’s first hospital. Still standing today (next to the old Jail on the corner of Main and Court), it was built to supply power to the Jail and the Shelby County Courthouse. When the ‘Great Flood’ hit in 1913, an emergency hospital was established in the upper portion. The above picture was taken during the flood, looking east from Ohio Avenue on Dallas Street.


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