Remembering Baer Tierkel

Editors’ Note: The Amherst Current invited readers to share their thoughts and feelings about Baer Tierkel, who died last Thursday at age 61. He lived in Amherst from 2003 to 2019. A brief report on the ceremony at Wildwood Cemetery on April 12 appears in the Comments section.

Baer was a mindful, heartful genius, who inspired and helped me and many people. On July 4, 2018, I met him for guidance in my political campaign, and took the photo shown below. He provided a deep understanding of the issues in town while enjoying his beverage at Amherst Coffee and playing music. He had the capacity to be deep, wise, funny, and helpful all the same time! We were both practitioners of mindfulness, which fostered a deep connection, not just between us but also with other people in the community whom he introduced me to. Baer inspired me and so many others to live life wholeheartedly, and when it’s time to leave our physical bodies, to do that with love, humor, and grace. – Shalini Bahl-Milne

Baer galvanized many parents of young children — most of us too insular and over-focused on our own families — to consider the idea that we might change local government if we joined Town Meeting. Later, he joined the Survival Center and managed to transform the distribution of monthly food supplies. While taking a tour, I saw him working alongside high schoolers to restock shelves and thought, “If Baer can give a few hours a week, so can I.” As it turned out, he volunteered every day. “I’m the son of a grocery man. I grew up keeping nice shelves. I love doing this stuff,” he told me. I volunteer to this day because Baer showed me that the joy in giving a little is multiplied when you give more. – Cammie McGovern

You knew when Baer was in the room. He had a contagious energy that he exuded. My heart goes out to Alison and their children as they feel his absence. Most of my memories of Baer are from local Amherst politics, where we were often aligned. When I ran for Select Board, he met with me to check out my positions and then signed on to my campaign committee. He offered to set up my web site and I remain grateful for his support. Baer generously contributed his time, skills and resources to so many causes he believed in. He will be missed. – Connie Kruger

When I was new to Town Meeting (and Town), Baer was a welcoming presence – always there with a cheerful “hi,” an update on the happenings in Town, and an invitation to gather with other residents after long nights. He was generous with his time – designing campaign literature, offering advice to first-time candidates, and encouraging “the younger generation” to get involved. He loved Amherst and believed in its potential. We didn’t know each other well, yet I knew Baer would be there if I needed advice or had any questions. — Mandi Jo Hanneke

When we worked on political campaigns, Baer had a unique way of drilling down to the essential connecting message. He was so skilled at identifying the authentic heart of what an individual or group was trying to communicate, understanding what the voters were in fact actually really concerned about, then stripped out the extraneous detail — of which some of us always had a lot 🙂 — and somehow found a way to present an eye-catching and often humorous message, yet still very sincere and true to our core values. Our community is poorer without him to help us tell our story. — Alisa Brewer

Thank you for changing this town: sharing your business brain when I felt lost; introducing me to a life-changing bff; and for the enlightened outlook and spirit you manifested sharing your story over the past year. You will inspire us forever to be better thinkers and doers. – Cinda Jones

What a wonderful spirit Baer brought to all of us. He showed us how to live each day to the fullest, and made us feel more alive and more hopeful about it all. If we all close our eyes and listen hard, I think we might just hear the distant sounds of a jam session happening where he is. So much love to you and the kids, Alison, and to all his co-conspirators here in the Valley and beyond. Thank you for including us in the journey. — Carol Sharick

Baer and I worked together on the Amherst for All campaign. The term “year-round democracy,” to describe the vision of a responsive, accountable town council that met and deliberated year-round, was his turn of phrase. Baer was a creative thinker, an iconoclast, someone who believed in walking to the beat of his own drum, especially if it had a good beat. He didn’t care if anyone else had ever played that particular song before. He loved his friends, he loved a good campaign, he loved live music and he loved this town. I will miss his spirit, warmth, twinkling eyes, warm smile. – Johanna Neumann

I don’t remember the first time I met Baer, but early on he suggested we start a business together because, as he put it, “between you and me, I think we know everyone in town.” For sure, everyone knew Baer. He convinced many of us to join the “rationalistas” on Town Meeting, brought people together over the poker table, and shared his encyclopedic knowledge of music with us all. His, and Alison’s, Zen acceptance of what was happening to him left me in tears, not that I would ever show them, not when being with Baer was so much fun. – Nina Wishengrad

I’m absolutely certain that if there’s any justice in the cosmos, Baer is reincarnated as a Red Sox center fielder who changes “Sweet Caroline” to “Iko-Iko” and chats between innings with fans about what’s really important in life. – Scott Goldman

When I think of Baer I think of music, celebration and good people.  Baer had vision and radiated joy. Everywhere you went in Amherst where something new and fun was happening, Baer was there, often as the architect. He truly gave so much to our town. Baer will be missed. – Kate Atkinson

Once his “joy & possibility computer analysis” pointed the family van to Amherst, he arrived and uplifted the town. Baer loved Amherst, and he brought tremendous life to every single happening he joined or organized, and with Oliver Broudy it was my privilege to work with Baer to bring life to “Amherst Live,” a living and breathing on-stage showcase of local personalities, fixations and apocrypha celebrating our town’s many selves. Baer had a big life and sought to enlarge ours. He represented the best of energies and ambitions for our town, his friends and his family. – Thomas Porter

I didn’t know Baer that well, but we played guitars once or twice at house parties. We talked about playing together, and then he got his diagnosis… Last time we communicated, he sent me a really nice home-mixed version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Sitting Around Waiting to Die.” I don’t think I realized at that time that he had already gotten a death sentence. I asked him how he mixed that clip up. In his own gracious way, Baer told me everything he had learned about home mixing boards, and the best, cheapest one. – Jon McCabe

Back in the ’90s, I worked with Baer at PeopleSoft in the Bay Area, and by sheer coincidence we moved to Amherst about a year after he and Alison did, and for many of the same reasons. I was quite familiar with Baer’s creative thinking, larger-than-life personality, and contagious enthusiasm – he had started a rock band at PeopleSoft – so I wasn’t surprised that Baer became passionate about making Amherst better and roped so many friends (including me) into town politics. – Ellen Lindsey

Baer’s essence: Sincerity, Heart, Optimism, and Wit. Baer’s utterly sincere, heart-wrenching, uplifting, and hilarious posts on CaringBridge written over the past year of his illness have taught me more about dying and death than all the books on the topic. For this I am deeply grateful. Love to all the Curphey-Tierkel family from ours. – Ali de Groot

Andy Churchill, Baer Tierkel and Clare Bertrand when they wrote a monthly Bulletin column.

Baer was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met: a software guy with a Buddhist-hippie streak, an endless curiosity, and a special ability to connect people. He brought data, accountability, and clear communication to Amherst politics: among other things, creating a spreadsheet to track the votes of Town Meeting members. He recognized that busy people with kids and jobs were underrepresented in our government, so he recruited them to participate. He co-wrote a Bulletin column with me and Clare Bertrand (shown in photo above) that presented a centrist viewpoint. And when it became clear that the current system wasn’t working, he threw himself into marketing for the new charter campaign. He made participating in Amherst fun. And he truly loved the place. – Andy Churchill

Baer and Alison were the first couple we met when we moved to Amherst in 2003. We had both recently moved here and connected through close common friends on the West Coast. They arrived at our door to go to dinner and then to a drum show up at Amherst College. There was an instant connection. This introduced us to their family’s sphere of joy-filled kindness, love and laughter that has been shared with so many others. Our friendship lasted all these years – so many wonderful memories! Words cannot express our gratitude and sadness. – Margaret Shea O’Connor

Baer was a transformative soul, who wholeheartedly embraced Amherst and acted on his vision of what he thought was possible. He was a positive political force and increased participation in Town Meeting while it existed. He left his mark on the Survival Center, and he was an inspiration in the creative Amherst Live programs. We wish we had known him better personally and planned to. Sadly, his sudden health problems interfered. Alison knows that we will always have the Panhandle. We will always have fond memories of Baer’s joie de vivre. His life and dying are an inspiration. – Jeff and Marilyn Blaustein

I was lucky to enjoy many lively gatherings, delicious meals, and electrifying performances with Baer (often organized by Baer!). I also turned to him for advice: Buy or rent? How to grow my business? How to vote in local elections? (I would create ‘crib sheets’ from our discussions and carry them into the polls.) It became a joke between Scott and me: What would Baer do (WWBD)? In the wake of this loss, I find myself applying this question to larger issues of joy and service from Baer’s outstanding example of A Life Well Lived. WWBD, indeed. – Meg Bouvier

August, 2018. Fresh Grass, MASS MoCA. We hadn’t planned to meet, yet there we were, lawn chaired side by side as dusk settled its purple light and Trampled by Turtles did their thing on the big stage. A train went by, mournful and eternal. I swear the conductor waved. Fare thee well, curious child. — Mat Lebowitz

I met Baer in 1983. We were housemates for five years in Watertown. My fondest memories: sitting with Baer in those incredible Section 34 bleacher seats, row 1, seats 1 and 2. Funny how I never got a chance to sit in seat 1. Baer was a main character in 34. Me, a frequent visitor. Beware, if you ventured into 34 and stood up for the “wave”! Last time I saw Baer before his diagnosis was Sept. 8, 2019, section 36, seats 1 and 2, versus the dreaded Yankees. Alison was watching and has a video of us sitting in the bleachers! — Michael Cellucci

In quintessential Baer fashion, we met in the waiting room of the Cooley ER and went on to become close friends and business partners years later. While he jovially tried to improve everything he touched in the public sphere, from town politics to local businesses, he also quietly worked to improve himself. In the end, Baer’s inspirational ability to meet death with grace and humor was the direct result of years of mindfulness work, to temper his reactive nature, something he was proud of and immensely grateful for. May his generous love inspire each of us to do the same!– Mike Giles

I’m in NYC on Halloween 2019 with Woody Sherman and Baer to see Dead & Co. at Madison Square Garden. This is big for me, returning to MSG, where I saw the Dead for the first time in 1979. As we’re leaving for the show, Baer pulls out this mask and says, “Here ya go, Scottie, put this on.” When I did, things changed – walking through NYC, dancing at the show, after parties, walking back to the hotel – was a Halloween blast wearing that mask. That was one of Baer’s gifts – making good things great with wisdom and love. — Scott Auerbach

11 thoughts on “Remembering Baer Tierkel”

  1. More than 100 people gathered at Wildwood Cemetery Tuesday to remember Baer Tierkel and talk about what he meant to their lives and to Amherst.
    Shalini Bahl-Milne talked about how much meditation meant to Baer and said, “He gave each one of us this bucket full of awesome.”
    Baer’s son Zeke said he had “one of the coolest dads of all tine.” He “had a knack for making friends wherever he went and was an expert at giving the right advice at the right time.”
    Mindy Domb talked about how Baer became an everyday volunteer at the Survival Center are created a better inventory system for the food pantry. He “was relentlessly engaged in life” and always found the time to listen and champion new ideas.
    Tony Maroulis said that Baer “was a believer in Town Meeting until he couldn’t believe in it anymore.” He spoke of Baer’s “bone-crushing hugs” and said he could “go from quiet meditation to volume level 11.”
    Scott Goldman said that the last few years of his life with spouse Alison Curphey were “some of the most connected and loving of their long love affair.” “Baer’s spirit and antics will live on through” his children’s stories. Baer “inhaled life and sprinkled sweet mojo all around this world.”
    Andy Churchill talked about Baer’s curious blend of Buddhism and marketing. “He enlisted us all in a mutual appreciation of what the world has to offer.” He cited some points from Baer’s meditation book, such as “Be curious,” “Be amazed,” “Nothing is missing,” “Enjoy the show,” “How did I get in this movie, “Feel it all” and “Think less, dance more.”


  2. I volunteered with Baer at the Amherst Survival Center and really cherished spending time stocking the shelves and listening to music in the pantry with him. His kind, light and welcoming presence shined SO bright! I moved from the area a couple years ago but continue to volunteer fighting food insecurity where I am now and will always be inspired to keep up the good fight looking back on my time at ASC with Baer. Sending my love!


  3. From Ed Burt:
    So many stories, yet not nearly as many as one would wish…
    We first crossed paths in the mid 80’s working together at McCormack and Dodge. I recall helping make the case to upper management to allow an incredibly talented, charismatic, technical developer to be allowed to join the group representing the company at the annual customer conference.
    “Suits are required, ponytail must be neat, and he has to lose the earrings.” Deal !
    One of the world’s most unique, incredible talents would go on to change the technical world forever.
    In every role, with every audience, Baer remained true to his core, focused in the moment and connected to each individual person. A true inspiration who will live on within us.


  4. From Connie Gonshorowski:
    I was lucky enough in the late 1990’s to have Baer as my boss. He was literally the coolest dude I have ever known. He was a natural leader, a mentor and one heck of a musician. I am so very grateful for the time I spent with him. My heartfelt condolences go to his partner in life (as he put it) Alison and to his children Chaya and Zeke. Death seems so final, but all the love we have for Baer will always be present and accounted for.


  5. From Elisabeth Cantor:
    I first met Baer sporting a porkpie hat, watching the Red Sox in a playoff series at the home of a mutual friend. I found him to be friendly and open, curious and curiouser, down-to-earth and inclusive.
    Baer held season tickets for his beloved Red Sox. When neither he and Alison, nor Zeke and Chaya were able to attend, he would send a mass email to his people and, lucky for us, he would sell them to those who emailed back first, never for a profit, always for the love of the game and to bring joy to others.


  6. I loved talking to Baer. He always made me smile and he always made me think. He inspired me to channel frustrations about local politics into action. When I decided to run for town council, his support came with kindness, humor, patience, and a frankness, and that is pretty rare. He was good vibes all around. I feel lucky to have known him and am grateful for his positive and lasting impact on our community.


  7. I did not have the honor of knowing Baer as many of you did, but he added so much to my life and continues to do so through the legacy of his work in Amherst. Baer was a member of the “Buy Nothing Amherst” Facebook group, gifting items he no longer had a use for to other folks in town. His light was always on full display in his posts, which were full of wit and generosity. One post in particular feels true and poignant today. When gifting some miscellaneous tools, Baer wrote:

    “You’ve woken up in a world broken. A world loose, fraying, unwound, and neglected. This world needs your attention, your love, your focus. Don’t worry where to start, just wake from your dream, open your eyes, and look right in front of you. You can fix it. You can fix it now with these ASSORTED TOOLS. Free to whomever needs the tools to fix the world. (butcha gotta take ’em all)”

    This is how I will remember Baer. So freely giving with his time, wisdom, and possessions, to anyone who wanted to fix the world.


  8. The most fun I had in town politics, prior to the Charter and Library votes, was being part of the movement vis Sustainable Amherst to bring sanity to Town Meeting. It wouldn’t have happened without Baer, and, for a brief period of a year or two, it put an end to those helpless feelings of witnessing a parliamentary parlor game, night after night. Baer Tierkel knew how to put together a slate of candidates centered on some common sense principles about the future of the Town and then how to rally people to a cause. It wasn’t micromanaged, but a whole new group of people, including my wife, got an introduction to Town Meeting service, including what was right and what was perhaps unavoidably wrong about the whole process. It became clear that one could love the Town, and not love Town Meeting. And, for a period of time, we had more parents of school-age children in the seats than we had ever had. This broadening of the Town Meeting experience to a wider population of people in town, instigated by Baer and his friends, probably led to the deeper reform that followed. I’m grateful for that, and I will remember Baer Tierkel’s can-do spirit about town politics forever.


  9. A dare from Baer. That’s what started the whole Charter effort. Over beers and bourbon at one of our many bonfires, he prodded me to start the petition process: “I fucking dare you,” he said flatly. For weeks in the Spring and Fall, we would sit in the back rows of the bleachers at the old Junior High watching the spectacle of Town Meeting while updating the Sox scores on our laptops. When one of usual suspects was called on to speak, we would quickly predict what she would say before the mic arrived: “While I appreciate the committee’s hard work and I would really like to support this article, I do have some concerns…” We were both antsy for change and Baer was a champion change agent who wouldn’t let go of the stick no matter how hard anyone tugged at it. He’s the kind of older kid at the back of the bus that I would have naturally found a seat next to. I’m just glad he made some room for me and we got some good rides in over the years. Ride on, Baerman!


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