Rick Bauman’s valedictory address to Waterloo-Oxford’s 1979 graduating class left little doubt where his future directions in life would lead him:
“It seems unfortunate that people who have knowledge enough to fill books still lack the satisfaction that life can offer. They might have a sound body and mind but do they have sound spirit? We must come to an understanding to accept and feel good about our place in this world.”
And while the young New Dundee man was, at this point, uncertain exactly where his own place would be, it was surely towards humanitarian work. The Mennonite Central Committee’s philosophies and goals meshed with his own, and he turned his direction that way.
After university graduation, Rick was accepted by MCC to work in Sachigo Lake in Northern Ontario. There, he’d be working with members of the Ojibway Nation, developing family and community gardens. The goal of the project was self-sustainability.
“Many First Nations had grown reliant on government programs to buy the food they needed,” he states. “MCC hoped to encourage them to rely less on white ways.”
Rick calls his experience at Sachigo Lake an “aha” experience. “For the first time, I was able to understand how many of the difficulties that native peoples experience have come about from their interaction with white culture.”
Humanitarian work took a sidestep when Rick began an assignment as a teacher at an Old Order Mennonite School near Winterbourne, northwest of Guelph. He calls his sojourn there “a window into my own history and culture.”
But humanitarian work was in his blood. When he was given the opportunity to take an MCC posting in the Innu community of Sheshatshiu in remote northern Labrador, he, his wife Louise Cober and their three young children packed up for an adventure like to other.
“You could literally go out the back door of your house, get on your skidoo and be in open country in seconds. We’d sleep in tents with pine boughs used for mattresses….and ear caribou and partridge that had just been killed.”
Calling this experience “life changing,” the Cober Bauman family returned home infinitely “more knowledgeable of the issues faced by our First Nation peoples.”
In 2008, Rick Cober Bauman was named MCC Ontario’s Executive Director. The fit was an inspired one. “I’m part of an organization that I’d like to believe that most people think of when the needs of a hurting world call for a wise and compassionate response.” His teenage goal to “find a place in this world” was surely in hand.
Within two years of his appointment, MCC Canada and its provincial branches had another opportunity to assist that hurting world. The nation of Haiti had been devastated by a 7.0 earthquake, and the need was acute. Within days, the Mennonite Central Committee had galvanized support to send thousands of disaster relief kits to the island, including personal hygiene items, blankets, clothing, and non-perishable food supplies.
And while Ontarians gave generously, Waterloo Region led the efforts. Rick recalls: “This was no surprise to us. Waterloo Region has a long and strong connection to MCC, but in this situation, its people responded to the crisis in a way never seen before.”
Of his nine years at the head of MCC Ontario, Rick would look to the Haitian earthquake as one of his organization’s finest hours. He looks back on “The Great Maud Lewis Thrift Store Discovery” as the most unexpected and delightful.
In 2017, a volunteer at MCC New Hamburg’s Thrift Centre uncovered, in a donation bin, a valuable painting by Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. Evaluated by experts as original and rare, the painting was valued at $16,000. After considerable publicity, thanks to both national and international media, the painting was auctioned, bringing in $45,000 for MCC’s overseas relief work.
The same year, Rick Cober Bauman was appointed Executive Director of MCC Canada, capping a 30-year career with the humanitarian organization. “Rick is a team builder and motivator, and is able to relate well with diverse communities,” said MCC in a statement.
With MCC Canada making its headquarters in Winnipeg, their new ED made the choice to remain living in the Shakespeare area. He would make frequent trips to Winnipeg and travel to other locations where MCC continues to serve in humanitarian and relief roles. Cober Bauman recalls the heartbreak of devastation that met him in Aleppo, Syria, in 2018. “…The complete destruction, no stone left on stone, was beyond tragic.”
The recent news of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake again bringing devastation to the island nation of Haiti saw MCC once again in response mode. “MCC sees its role not as ‘first responder,’ such as the Red Cross but as partnering with other agencies…to provide immediate and long-term support,” says its Executive Director.
And the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan? “We are poised to respond if the federal government decides to use Private Sponsorship of Refugees [a program MCC helped found in Canada in 1979] to resettle people fleeing violence in Afghanistan,” says Cober Bauman.
He notes that MCC has already received a number of inquiries from Canadians “offering to provide a safe and welcoming home for people who cannot stay in or safely return to Afghanistan.”
Climate change and its effects, especially in eroding poor nations’ food security, sees the Mennonite Central Committee working too. “With a growing number of partners in the global south, we are helping communities adapt to drastic change in weather patterns,” says its Executive Director.
Older, wiser and more travelled than his valedictory self, more than 40 years ago, which urged his graduates to find their place in the world, Rick Cober Bauman surely has—and then some.