Habitat for Humanity volunteer retires after two decades

Published 8:49 am Saturday, June 2, 2018

After a little more than two decades with Habitat for Humanity, a well-known volunteer retired on Thursday.

John “Smokey” Bauer is a well-known volunteer with the nonprofit organization, and many of his peers shared their sentiments and goodbyes to someone who was a fixture in Habitat for Humanity Freeborn/Mower County for the last 20 or some years.

Josh Whalen, manager for ReStore, had been in leadership for about a year and hasn’t known Bauer for too long. However, the amount of time didn’t matter, and the two became fast friends.

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The expert volunteer makes himself at home in the basement at the store, turning scrap metal into gold—revenue—for the store.

“He does it pretty much full-time out of the goodness of his heart,” Whalen said. “He kind of runs the basement and helps keep things down there, painting stuff and took the initiative to run the scrap metal program. He’s always happy to be here and has been a great, positive influence on everybody.”

This testament rings true for Brigitte Fisher, the former executive director for Habitat for Humanity Freeborn/Mower County. She recalled a time when Bauer had worked with children in fixing Christmas lights for a partner family of one of the nonprofit’s home builds.

“Everybody was his friend,” Fisher said. “He definitely brought people together, and made people feel like they’re a top notch person. Bringing people together is what he’s really about.”

Friends and volunteers threw Bauer a goodbye celebration on Thursday, recounting his contributions to the mission of Habitat for Humanity.

“Smokey believed that everyone should have a decent place to live, regardless of their financial situation,” Whalen said. “He really believes in that. He works full-time 40 hours a week of his free time and doesn’t complain. He really does embody selflessness and giving back.”

It’s uncertain who will be taking over the scrap metal shop at the ReStore, but Fisher thanked Bauer for his many years of volunteering for those who needed it most.

“There’s some big shoes to fill, and he’ll be sorely missed,” she said. “I don’t think Habitat will ever be able to. He’s a one in a million guy.”