Manly Winstone Roger Bauer was born on July 19, 1938, in Windsor, Ont. His father, Wilfred, was a broomcorn sharecropper in Colchester South, Ont., who died of appendicitis two months before Roger was born. He was raised by his mother, Ethel, who moved Roger and his older brother, Ron, to Leamington, Ont., to be closer to her parents. There, Ethel continued working the farm and, despite the family’s poverty and an offer from a friend to adopt her sons, fought tirelessly to keep the family together.
Roger spent his childhood taking long Sunday drives and going to the beach with his mother and brother, remaining blissfully ignorant of his family’s financial straits. One Christmas, when a charity showed up at the front door to deliver a turkey, he almost turned them away, thinking that couldn’t possibly be for their household, before his mother intervened.
Ethel impressed upon her sons that possessions weren’t important. One night in high school, after Ron came home with a new car, Roger convinced him to let him take it out for a ride. When he rolled it off the road, the brothers climbed out, banged out the roof of the vehicle and drove on.
In November 1960, Roger spotted Carol Happy across the room at a Scout convention in Windsor. He would later say he knew at that moment that the dark-haired Cub leader with a heart-shaped face was the one. He asked her out for coleslaw. Within three months, they were engaged, and they married within the year. Ten months after that, they had twin daughters, Lori and Lisa. The pair would later have two sons, Chris and David.
After apprenticing as an accountant at the Windsor firm Brokenshire, Scarff and Co., Roger joined Chrysler in 1962. There, he developed a reputation as a prankster. “I remember when he came home and told us of a co-worker trying to answer the phone after he had coiled the phone cord around itself, fixing the handset to the phone,” his oldest daughter, Lori Wright, says. “He laughed until tears rolled down his face.”
When his kids were older, he took them on long car rides, as well. Roger printed songbooks for his family—folk tunes and hymns, the words of which he always got wrong—that they kept in their station wagon for weekend drives. “Our experience in our home was of a dad who wrestled and played and danced and sang,” Lori says. “We knew that if we were out for a drive and we passed a park, we could always ask him to stop and play.” Perhaps a vestige of a childhood lived in uncertainty, Roger came prepared everywhere he went, carrying an emergency kit of a pen, notepad, hankie, comb, Band-Aid, screwdriver, flashlight and knife. “If you asked him for something, he’d produce it,” Lori says. “He was always cognizant that something could happen, so he always had a sense of preparedness.”
Inspired by his children, Roger became a devout Christian in his mid-life, saying grace at every meal and offering help and kindness to friends and strangers. “He would tell us that he was an angry man before that,” Lori says. “He would tell us that doesn’t have to be your life.” Among his many volunteer commitments, which included firefighting and teaching first aid, was work as an elder at his parish, Oakwood Bible Chapel.
After 32 years as an accountant at Chrysler, Roger retired. After that, he became known to family, friends and strangers as the “Balloon Man.” When one of his granddaughters was born, he learned how to twist balloons into animal shapes and it became his trademark, much to the delight of his 19 grandchildren and, eventually, 10 great-grandchildren. For his wife, Carol, he’d twist balloons into lovebirds.
Bauer loved sharing stories with his enormous family, reading to them from the works of Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling. On one recent Sunday, Daniel Wright, one of his grandsons, came downstairs to find his grandfather reading the Bible, much earlier in the day than usual. “What are you doing?” he asked him. “Oh, just studying for the final,” Roger quipped.
On Feb. 9, Roger was returning home from picking up the paper at his rural mailbox. He was crossing the same street where he’d waited for his ride to work at Chrysler every morning for more than 30 years, and where for years, he had helped other drivers—once taking in for the night a couple whose trailer had broken down—when he was hit by a pick-up truck and died. He was 76.