This is the sixth in a series of stories heralding the many great people of the University of Findlay and the ways they support our mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and productive careers.
Within their four-year experience at college, students are bound to face some adversity. It’s beyond sensible expectation to think that there won’t be more than a fair share of hills to climb and bumps in the road. It’s good to have folks on campus who can speak toward overcoming obstacles in life, and at University of Findlay, there happens to be a man who not only has conquered a good amount of misfortune, but is also responsible for the safety of students and staff alike. The combination of the two makes him someone who Oilers present, past, and future can feel confident in looking toward for inspiration and guidance.
Steve Baum, captain of UF campus police and safety/security, has been a volunteer firefighter since he graduated high school many years back, so when the house he lived in, a house that once belonged to his late grandparents, caught on fire in the wee hours of the morning several years ago, he instantly knew what was going on. “My nephew, Caleb, was staying with me at the time, and it was, like, two o’clock in the morning,” he said. “I was asleep and he came and knocked on my bedroom door, telling me that he smelled smoke. I came out and I knew right away. I could hear it rolling above the ceiling.” He and Caleb made it outside to helplessly watch the home that Steve had been a part of for nearly his entire life burn to the ground. Among other precious things, his grandmother’s antiques, his dad’s tools, and one of his two dogs were lost.
Compounding matters to put things into perspective, within the year of the house fire, Baum had gotten divorced, a softball injury and several subsequent surgeries had left his right side paralyzed, and his brother had died. To say that it was a lot to overcome is clearly a grievous understatement. “I’m not saying I hit rock bottom, but the determination I’d had for my whole life wasn’t there,” he confessed. “Caleb got me back in the gym one day, though, and when there, I looked at myself in a mirror and said ‘What are you doing? What you’re allowing to happen isn’t going to fix anything.’ From that point on, I’ve never stopped.”
“Never stopped” is an understatement in and of itself.
Since that fateful year, Baum has righted the ship remarkably. Now in great physical condition, barring the occasional obligation, he visits the gym every day, even with the multiple rods and screws in his neck and spine that are holding everything together. His home has been rebuilt in beautiful fashion on the same land upon which it sat prior, and he is now the captain of a campus police department that he largely helped to create. “Everybody goes through something,” he said. “You see countless people and even children who haven’t been as fortunate as me. I’ve got it good. I still fight fires. I still wear the campus police badge. I’m so blessed to be able to come here and work and help people every day.”
The pride that comes from being employed with such a caring place directly reflects upon how he performs his job at UF as the captain of a force that includes four full-time police officers and eighteen security officers. Additionally, along with a full-time one, every other dispatcher is a student. “It’s a lot of responsibility, so it teaches that,” he said, “and it’s so good to have them as a part of our office. You get to watch them grow as you mentor them. We get close. It’s hard to see them go after four years.”
The abundantly common notion at Findlay – that it is a lot like one big extended family – is one that Baum shares. He said he sees it not just in the security office, but throughout the entire campus. When his house burned down, for instance, many who worked at UF donated to the cause. “You won’t have that at other places. They announced over the loudspeaker at the 50/50 raffle at the basketball game back then that the money was coming to me. Things like that set us apart. Nothing but support.”
Baum shared that, often, when parents drop their kids off for their first semester as an Oiler, there is a certain fear in their faces. It’s an inevitable part of children “leaving the nest,” so to speak. That’s when that family idea really kicks in. “I just ensure them that their child is coming to a great university. A safe university,” he explained. “We all see it as, on any given day, the students we have here, we consider our own kids, and obviously, we want to keep our kids safe. That is our biggest goal, and we work very hard to make it happen.”