Of even the most modest people, there is a colourful and inspiring story to tell.
In his new book, Watchman: Abilities and Disabilities, local author Del Gingrich shares one such tale, that of his lifelong friend Aden Bauman.
Bauman was born with limited use of his legs at a time when those with physical disabilities were looked down upon. He persevered and 60 years after they became friends at Elmira Public School, Gingrich was inspired to put his life’s story to paper.
“Because I have known him for so long, I knew he was special. It is a tribute to him and a thank-you for being who he is,” shared Gingrich. “When we were kids, he couldn’t participate in ball games or hockey games, and that is one of the reasons that I wanted to highlight him as well because he has never had that chance. This is his 15 minutes of fame.”
Bauman was one of seven children, five of whom were physically disabled, just like their mother. His father died when he was young, so the family moved from Floradale to Elmira.
The idea for the book came from Gingrich and his volunteer work. He writes short biographies about local seniors for publication at the church, and when he considered Bauman, he felt the story deserved something a bit bigger. Bauman didn’t see it that way at first, however.
“Well, I am the type of guy that doesn’t like to be noticed, that was my first thought basically,” he said, adding that he has almost finished reading the final product. “It is very good so far. The way Del puts it is very nice. A lot of people don’t accept others with disabilities the way they should sometimes, I think.”
Among Bauman’s many life adventures, one sticks out for both him and Gingrich, and maybe even some Elmira residents.
“In public school, he couldn’t ride a bicycle, but he wanted to get around Elmira, so of his own volition, he went down to the Central Cycle Store, and asked the owner if he could get some help with something that would get him around town,” shared Gingrich. “They put together a homemade scooter for him – that scooter predated any other around here, so Aden was zipping around town.”
Bauman remembered how much the scooter helped him at a time when there wasn’t much help available.
“They went to Kitchener and came up with something. That was a big step for me. I could get around town a lot easier. I could go to the swimming pool without getting really tired by the time I got there,” he said.
Bauman is well-known in the Elmira area, having run his own watch repair and retail store on Arthur Street next to Brown’s Menswear. He started the business after becoming a watchmaker as a way to work with his hands. It’s a job that kept him occupied for 46 years, and even in his retirement, he tinkers away for charity.
“In his basement he still has a workshop,” explained Gingrich. “The MCC Thrift Store in Elmira, they bring him all of their watches, and he decides if they are worth keeping or repairing. He does that at no cost, and he gets about 1,000 watches a year. He is very busy.”
Watchman: Abilities and Disabilities isn’t just about Bauman’s life, but also serves as a history of disabled people and discrimination in Canada. Gingrich says he wanted to highlight how far things have come, while also recognizing the work that still needs to be done.
“There are still, in some areas, the idea that people with disabilities are lesser than and they have other issues. It is much better now, but there is still work to do. It is interesting the history of disabilities. The idea has always been to fix the person, and now the idea seems to be that we as a society make them disabled because we don’t accommodate them. There is still a wall there, though,” he shared.
Watchman: Abilities and Disabilities, is available in Elmira at Foodland and Read’s Decorating, in Linwood at the Living Waters bookstore, in St. Jacobs at The Mennonite Story and the general stores in West Montrose and Wallenstein. The book costs $20, with proceeds to be donated to charity.