Baur Dee’s Girls

by Lynne Cannegieter

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    She was our Beehive teacher and our softball coach. And she changed our lives.

    One day, a few months before my 12th birthday, I noticed a note card on the dresser of the room I shared with my older sister, Elizabeth. When I read the message inside—I’m happy to be your teacher and hope that we have a great year in Mutual—and saw that it was signed “Baur Dee,” I said (perhaps a little sarcastically), “Bower Dee! What kind of name is that?”

    “It’s not ‘Bower,’” Elizabeth retorted. “It’s like ‘bar,’ as in ‘bar of soap.’ And she’s the best Beehive teacher in the world!”

    I soon learned that all of the girls loved Baur Dee, and I was no exception.

    That first summer after I became a member of the Beehive class, Baur Dee Sheffield was asked to coach the girls’ softball team in our ward, along with teaching our class. So she also taught us on the softball field. Although she made us work hard at practices, no one ever wanted to miss. She helped us overcome weaknesses in our game by focusing on our strengths. Mistakes were overlooked, successes were praised, and over time we became quite good.

    When competition began that summer, we won most of our games. Our one real rival was a neighboring ward, and the girls in that ward were very serious about softball. During our first game with them, in an effort to “psyche us out,” they openly made fun of our technique, our players—everything. A couple of our team members shot back some rather unfriendly remarks in return.

    After the first inning, Baur Dee called us into a huddle and forbade us from saying one negative thing to any of our opponents. Reluctantly we obeyed. By the time the game ended, they had beaten us by one run and had also beaten us psychologically. Their derogatory comments had caused us to doubt our ability.

    We stayed after the game that night as Baur Dee taught us what we needed to learn: to believe in ourselves and always to treat others with respect. She taught us how the Savior would have us act by challenging us to go home and memorize Matthew 5:44. She piqued our curiosity by not telling us what the scripture said, and I believe all of us, as soon as we arrived home, looked up the verse. I can still recite it from memory: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

    When it was time for the final softball game to determine which team from our stake would go on to regional play, the contest was between us and the neighboring ward. After a hard-fought game during which they heckled us relentlessly, they won. How disappointed we were! We had tried so hard and felt at that moment of defeat that all our practice, all our efforts, had been in vain.

    Our misery abated slightly as one of the girls noticed Baur Dee and her husband Glen lifting a large tub containing two watermelons in ice from their car trunk. We hurried over to partake of our consolation prize. Before we could, however, Baur Dee suggested that we invite the winning team to share the watermelon with us. Protests arose immediately. Why should we share with those who had not only beaten us, but who had been so unkind about it?

    The look of disappointment on Baur Dee’s face was obvious. As she turned to cut the melons, she said, “I’m leaving it up to you.” We stood silent for a moment, knowing what we should do but not wanting to do it.

    Finally one of the girls spoke up, “Well, there’s Matthew 5:44 [Matt. 5:44]. I guess we’d better invite them.” We did so, and before long each one of us felt that sweet joy which comes when the hand of fellowship is extended, conflicts are resolved, and we know that we have done something good. It was an unforgettable lesson.

    I went to Baur Dee’s house often that summer. I felt so comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with her. One time the conversation turned to serious subjects. In a quiet, rather hesitant voice she told me that she had an incurable kidney disease that would take her life. Although I was concerned, I didn’t really comprehend what she was telling me. However, in a matter of months, she was gone. She was 27 years old.

    After the funeral, as we girls stood somberly around the open grave at the cemetery, we promised each other that we would visit Baur Dee’s final resting place together every Memorial Day and that we would never, ever allow her memory to die.

    Each Memorial Day for many years we dragged ourselves out of bed before it was light, gathered flowers, attached a card that said, “To Baur Dee, from your girls,” and made our way to the cemetery. We often speculated about whether the members of Baur Dee’s family ever noticed the flowers and note and wondered who we were.

    Gradually, some of us went away to college, some married and moved away, until only a few of us made the annual trek. Eventually I found myself going alone and from then on did so, always tying a note to the flowers, a note which read, “To Baur Dee, from her girls.”

    One year, nearly 25 years after Baur Dee’s death, I realized that I would be away on Memorial Day and decided to visit Baur Dee’s grave a few days early. On the Thursday evening before Memorial Day, I had gathered some flowers, tied them with a ribbon, attached the card, and was putting on my jacket when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and was greeted by Colleen Fuller, one of my visiting teachers. As I invited her in, she noticed my jacket and the flowers and apologized for interrupting my plans.

    “No problem,” I said. “I’m just on my way to the cemetery to put flowers on the grave of the woman who was my Beehive teacher and softball coach.”

    An expression difficult to describe came over Colleen’s face. She asked, “Could your teacher’s name have been Baur Dee?”

    Bewildered, I answered, “Yes. How did you know?”

    “I can’t believe it,” she said. “Baur Dee was my mother’s sister. Every Memorial Day since she died, my family has found flowers and a card saying, “To Baur Dee from your girls,” on her grave. They’ve always wanted to know who these “girls” were so they could thank them for remembering Baur Dee. You obviously are one of them.”

    I continue, each year, to visit Baur Dee’s grave, leaving flowers and the same note. My children and husband accompany me now. As we place flowers on Baur Dee’s grave, our daughters, Jenny and Kristy, ask to hear again my stories about Baur Dee. In these moments, Baur Dee’s lessons are passed on to another generation.

    Sometimes, during quiet moments, I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for having been allowed to know one of his very special daughters and for the privilege of having been so lovingly taught by her. Wherever I go, whatever I do, something of Baur Dee goes with me. Her example lives on in those of us she taught and in those with whom we have shared her lessons.

    Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett