Lee Baumann, Chadron State College’s commencement speaker, was on familiar ground when he stepped up to the podium Friday evening.
Baumann, a member of the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame and past recipient of the CSC Distinguished Alumni Award who was raised six blocks from the campus, used stories from experiences with his alma mater to inspire the graduating class.
“The stories are endless, but the cherished memories associated with them are the fabric I pull from to check my personal compass,” said the 1973 graduate.
Baumann, who serves as senior vice president for State Farm Insurance Companies, used his CSC experiences to encourage the graduates to live their dreams, remain confident, associate themselves with good people, and remember from where they came.
“Long before I entered the business world, I was instilled with a belief captured by the saying, ‘Do not let anyone steal your confidence,’” he said. “Be it on this very floor, or on the football field to the west or the old baseball field behind this building, I had to believe in myself.”
Baumann began working at State Farm as an agent while finishing up his college degree. He said he is inspired by others who count on him to succeed, as he was in college. Now in St. Louis, Mo., after 12 relocations, he has become responsible for operations in a five-state region for the No. 34 company on the Fortune 500 list.
He noted that his family has been part of Chadron for almost 100 years, much like Chadron State itself. His parents, Bob and Babe Baumann, also were devout supporters of CSC – Bob being among the inaugural inductees of the Athletic Hall of Fame.
“My parents, like many of yours, invested much of what they had – or maybe did not even have – to make a day like this possible,” he said. “Chadron State was my option. We could not afford to look elsewhere, but honestly I did not, nor did I need to.”
While encouraging the graduates to surround themselves with good people, the former quarterback gave credit to many past teammates for his success and recounted stories from his days as a three-sport athlete at CSC.
In one example, he told of a frigid return from a basketball game at Dickinson, N.D., in which he and another freshman sat in the back seat of a bus that had a broken rear window.
“Fortunately I had teammates who shared gloves, coats, whatever, to keep the two of us relegated to that seat as warm as possible,” he said.
Then, he revealed that the teammate next to him on the bus was Dave Sanders, the teacher and coach who was later killed while attempting to save students during the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
“Dave saved the lives of many that April day, prior to losing his own,” Baumann said. “Even though our friendship was shortened, we all should keep his impact on others alive. I’ve been blessed to have been surrounded by those better than me.”
Baumann also told the graduates to use adversity as a launching pad for success. To illustrate his point, he brought up the story of Danny Woodhead, the former CSC running back who has gained national attention while playing for the New England Patriots.
“Like Don Beebe a few years ago, Danny Woodhead has put us back on the map,” Baumann said. “Read any article, listen to any interview with or about Danny and you have to feel proud to be a part of Chadron State. He is a class act and a prime example that adversity is preparation for greatness. From a busted up knee in his first year in the pros, to practice team, to being released by the team that gave him a chance, to now the undersized, team-oriented, dynamo that truly does remember where he came from.”
Baumann also gave recognition to the work and leadership of many of his friends and acquaintances at CSC, including President Dr. Janie Park and Randy Bauer of Chadron, the State Farm agent who is heavily involved with many CSC efforts.
Prior to the commencement address, Park announced that Baumann will be providing a sizable contribution to the Events Center, the addition and renovation of CSC’s Armstrong Physical Education Building that is part of the Chadron State Foundation’s Vision 2011 comprehensive fundraising campaign. The gift will complement an endowment in Baumann’s name that was established by his children, Chris and Kelli.
“Chadron State College and this community will always be my home,” Baumann said. “Personally, I will give whatever I can to this institution and community because of what it has given to me. Be it my time, my money, encouragement, or a small annual scholarship representing my family and love of Chadron State College.”
—Justin Haag, CSC Information Services