For longtime resident ‘Doc’ Bahe, animals were his life & livelihood
By Denise Moran For The Courier-News December 25, 2012 7:20PM
Former long-time Hampshire-area veterinarian Harold "Doc" Bahe and his wife, Mary Lou.
Updated: January 27, 2013 6:03AM
This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our communities in 2012.
HAMPSHIRE — For Harold “Doc” Bahe, it was not unusual to see hundreds of “patients” in a single day.
But it wasn’t just cows, pigs or pets that the now-retired veterinarian looked after. Animals in his care also included zoo bison and even Santa’s reindeer.
Bahe is a familiar face in Hampshire, where he has lived most of his life since he was born on July 17, 1928.
Bahe’s parents were Herman W. Bahe and Myra Snow Bahe. His father was the village president of Hampshire for six years during the late 1930s to the early 1940s. He also ran the Mill Street mill that produced electricity for the town. His grandfather, Herman C. Bahe, bought the mill in 1902.
“The mill was originally used for grinding grain for the farmers,” Bahe said. “I was born into the mill business, but it was a dying business. Farms got too big to haul grain into town. They built mills on their own land. Dad had the mill throughout my school years.”
Bahe grew up with his parents and older brother, Lowell, in their home along Keyes Avenue. His invalid uncle, Frank Snow, and his great uncle, Henry Bahe, lived with the family.
“Henry was on a bridge driving a team of horses when lightning hit the bridge and knocked the team down,” Bahe said. “He got the horses up without realizing that he had also been struck. He was then 90 percent deaf.”
He recalls another time years later when 25 cows at an area farm were killed with one lightning strike.
Bahe’s father once owned the building that now houses PetAg.
“We used to pay basketball in the building,” Bahe said. “There was a steel floor, so it hurt if you fell down. There was a ramp that farmers once used for hauling milk. We used to sled down the ramp and right across Keyes Avenue. The road at that time was gravel.”
Due to a lack of students who played instruments, Bahe started playing the trumpet in the Hampshire High School band when he was only a fourth-grade student. He played until he graduated from high school.
“Fourth of July in Hampshire was a big celebration,” Bahe recalled. “I was in the parade many times. The parade started on Washington Street and went through town twice. They kept up the parade until World War II started.”
During the war, Bahe said, young men either farmed or went into the service. Farmers were exempt from serving because they were needed to keep up the food supply.
“During the war, you could not drive your car over 30 miles per hour,” he said. “You didn’t want to burn up too much gas or wear out your tires.”
When German prisoners of war were brought to Hampshire to work in the canning factory, the teenage Bahe worked alongside them.
“They could not work the prisoners more than eight hours at a time,” Doc said. “The supervisor and I were the only ones there who spoke English. I once put in 22 hours with catnaps between shifts.”
While he was growing up, Bahe’s father was taught in German at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hampshire and in English at the public school.
“Dad was fluent in both English and German,” Bahe said. “During the war, they stopped teaching German.”
Bahe graduated from high school in 1946 when the war ended. He joined the U.S. Navy and was taught electronics. He was discharged in 1948.
Bahe decided he wanted to become a teacher. He enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin where he met his wife, Mary Lou. During his sophomore year, he decided to become a veterinarian and he transferred to University of Illinois in Champaign.
“We were the third veterinary class to graduate from the University of Illinois,” Bahe said. “Mary Lou graduated with a degree in psychology. We were married in 1952.”
In 1954, the couple moved to Hampshire. Bahe practiced veterinary medicine with Harry Gray until Gray died in 1957. Bahe continued working and built his veterinary office along State Street in 1960.
“I worked with cows, hogs, horses, sheep and goats,” Bahe said.
“I also did small-animal work, such as dogs and cats, out of my office. I took care of the reindeer at Santa’s Village in Dundee and the elk and buffalo at the Lords Park Zoo in Elgin. I also took care of the farm animals at Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo. I was the closest dairy practitioner to Chicago.”
Bahe said there were 200 dairies in the area when he began practicing. When he retired in 1990, only 20 dairies were left. While the average dairy once had just 20 cows, a dairy today averages 200 cows.
“A routine day could involve rectals on 75 cows, vaccinations on 400 pigs, or blood testing on 200 pigs being shipped to other countries,” Bahe said. “In 1990 while I was dehorning a cow, I tore muscles in my shoulder. I couldn’t raise my arm for six months. I had extensive shoulder surgery and retired on July 1, 1990.”
Bahe his wife have two children, Eric and Tracy. Their grandchildren are Ryan, Hilary, Morgan, Lisa and Ian. Their great-grandchildren are Jaden, Hudson, Lennox, Lawson and Broxson. Morgan is a teacher at Hampshire Middle School.
Bahe still likes to fish and hunt. When he was a boy, he recalls, he hunted prairie chickens.
“When agriculture came in, it killed off the prairie chickens,” Bahe said. “Pheasants were brought in from China and did well until they tiled the farm fields and pheasants lost their habitat.”
Although retired, he still sees lots of animals.
“We’re now getting overpopulated with coyotes that are eating the farm cats and rabbits,” he said. “The rabbits have moved into town. I’ve also had deer in my backyard.”