Forever Indebted…A Tribute to our Founder, Dr. Edward Baum

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Forever Indebted…A Tribute to our Founder, Dr. Edward Baum
by Susie Burke, Medical Director, Camp One Step

My personal story with Dr. Baum started in 1983 when I was a young staff nurse working on the School Age/Adolescent Unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. I loved working with children but considered myself relatively novice in my role as a pediatric nurse. I gravitated towards the kids with cancer, wanting to learn as much as I could about childhood cancer, it’s treatment, as well as the impact of cancer on the child and their family – so I decided to volunteer at a summer camp for kids with cancer. At that time, camps for kids with cancer were early on in their evolution, and the closest one to me was based out of Chicago, run by a physician by the name of Dr. Edward Baum. Actually, it was the only camp for kids with cancer in the entire Midwest and only one of a few in the United States. So pulling out my typewriter, I composed a letter to Dr. Baum, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the former Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago (now Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital), and also founder of Camp One Step at a Time. And that was the start of our journey together……
Dr. Baum had a dream – and one of those dreams was to give kids with cancer the opportunity to just be kids – to have fun, laugh and play, do normal kid stuff, and to forget about the hospital and treatments for just a short period of time. He always dreamed big and one of those dreams became a reality with the founding of Camp One Step at a Time. He laid the foundation for camp and provided all of the building blocks for generations to come – today his legacy lives on in the many programs that grew out of his inspiration, and through the many campers and volunteers that have benefitted from his work.

When I think about how best to describe Dr. Baum, some words immediately come to mind – trailblazer, visionary, brilliant, creative, supportive, esteemed, and trusted. He was a man who was held in such high regard by so many people. He was a forward thinker, continually looking for new opportunities that would improve the lives of children with cancer and their families. He truly valued and upheld the concept of family centered care, long before it was considered a core standard in pediatrics. He was a soft-spoken man but when he spoke, people stopped and listened.
Dr. Baum was a role model and through his actions, he challenged each and every one of us to be the best version of ourselves. He had a special way of bringing out the best in people, whether it was a very shy, homesick camper wanting to go home or a new counselor just getting their feet wet. He helped them believe in themselves by always believing in them. Those gentle taps on the shoulder or those rides in the golf cart – those were often the times when his new ideas would unfold and you knew that he wanted you to help make it happen. You never knew when a phone call might come from Dr. Baum asking you to take on a new responsibility, often saying “Don’t worry, I have the first few days figured out – we can talk about the rest when you get here.” He trusted you to go forward, but was always there for you when needed. He didn’t solve the problem for you but instead supported you through your problem-solving – as a result, he developed a lot of very resilient people.

Over the past several days, I have had a chance to look at my “camp memorabilia” from the 1980’s. Many of the traditions, steeped in history, continue today at camp – the camp song, time at the waterfront, Excursion’s trip to the Dells, the beloved Abbey Boat Day, our closing banquet with camper speakers, camper awards, and Sr. Erna’s bird walk, to name a few. As I looked through photobooks specifically searching for photos of Dr. Baum, only a few could be found. He was even missing in my All Camp photos. So I thought about that and realized that the explanation was really quite simple. Camp was never about Dr. Baum, who he was or what he did – he always made sure that the focus was on the kids – and I believe that is a tradition that lives on today. One Step at a Time’s our goal & One Step at a Time is our philosophy.

Many years have passed since I have had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Baum but the memories of our time together and his wisdom will remain with me forever. I truly believe that I am here today, the Medical Director at Camp One Step, because of him. He took a chance on me when he opened that letter in 1983, just like he has so many times with so many others. I consider myself one of the “lucky ones” because our paths crossed, and his friendship a true blessing – I know that there are so many more who feel the same way that I do. We are forever grateful to him for his vision, guidance, inspiration and friendship, and strive every day to continue the work that he started, taking it one step at a time. I believe that Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best with these words, “Do not go where the path may lead. But go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
We will miss you, dear friend, but the imprint that you made on our hearts will live forever!