On August 2, 2018, John Philip Bahr passed into a sleep from which he would not awake. In so doing, John closed the final chapter of a well-lived life that began with his birth in Falls City, Nebraska and spanned 82 years through a multitude of family relationships and innumerable personal friendships and professional connections. From his polio recuperation as a young child to his later struggles with unique medical issues, or from his days of (dangerous) childhood chemistry experiments to the broken bones and wounds earned through life’s activities, John was a resolute survivor discounting his hardships as he reached for the most active life, intellectual and physical, that he could sustain.
Summiting Mt. Whitney in California, Long’s Peak in Colorado, canoeing (and feeding the mosquitoes) in his beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area or backpacking in Olympic National Park were ways that John celebrated his wonder of nature, an awareness that was first manifested when he earned his Eagle Scout in Mason City, Iowa, He was an inquisitive man with an inveterate desire to “link people” together whom he thought had common interests and the hope that those people could “go forth and do good” in the world. He viewed knowledge and education as important to personal growth and consequently earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, a master’s in mechanical engineering, and a PhD in biomedical engineering (which required him to build and learn how to program the first working “personal home computer” in Wisconsin).
His creative and curious intelligence drove him to develop many ideas-some before their time. One example is an infant blood-gas monitoring/assisted breathing system to help premature babies get enough oxygen for their brains to be healthy but not so much as to cause blindness or other problems (and for which he used family members as test subjects to evaluate various sensors). He also conceived of a computerized home-based grocery order and delivery system by which people could use a pre-configured account to order groceries. This work was done in the mid-1980s and John contacted several grocery chains but no one was interested. A startup company from Seattle has finally taken this idea to market with apparent great success.
John similarly conceived a digital medical-records system to address the paper-based problems that he labored with while working in the medical field. This interest spawned two successful companies, one focused on gathering data from nurses visiting home-bound patients and the other included a full suite of patient records with an early form of expert-system based diagnostic capabilities. In the fullness of time, a small Wisconsin company named EPIC took similar ideas to market and seems to be doing OK with it.
Incongruous with his somewhat conservative Mason City, Iowa, upbringing, John was engaged in the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. He played an active role in efforts to defeat unlawful housing segregation, create opportunities for inner-city job training, and other initiatives meant to build community and defeat injustice.
After retirement, John turned his active mind to address environmental issues. He travelled Wisconsin lecturing about fossil fuels, energy efficiency, and renewable sources (particularly wind energy) long before climate change entered the public consciousness. Later, John turned to the issue of plastics in the environment and organized a “Bag-It” initiative to reduce local reliance on plastic bags. He gave freely of his time to a variety of organizations including the Sierra Club, Renew Wisconsin, Focus on Energy, and related committees in his hometown of Wauwatosa, WI.
John was a warm and loyal friend who made life-long friendships and regularly attended reunions for the Milwaukee County General Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, his Highschool in Mason City, Iowa, the Acacia Fraternity at Iowa State University, Ames Iowa, and his Boy Scout troop even after more than sixty-five years. He was very active in his church community at the Unitarian Universalist Church West serving on a variety of committees to share his love of music, nature, conversation, and personal growth. He liked to make people smile and filled his interactions with witticism and awkward (really, really bad) puns.
John leaves behind his four children: Dave Bahr, Cynthia Bahr Totty Hefley, Mike Bahr, and Rebecca Bahr and many, many friends. He has served us well by being an example of integrity, independent thought and community building. While gone from our world, his influence will be carried forward by all who knew and loved him.
John was predeceased by his father Herbert M. Bahr in 1973 his mother Maxine L. Bahr in 1994 and his brother Don in 2016.
A celebration of John’s life will be held at 10:00am, December 1, 2018 at the Unitarian Universalist Church West, 13001 W North Ave, Brookfield, WI.
Memorials to the Unitarian Universalist Church West or the Great Waters Group of the Sierra Club, are appreciated in lieu of flowers.