Mar 31, 2021

Alexius Baas, Humane Advocate and Beyond

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Alexius Baas is a fascinating historical figure with remarkable connections to Dane County Humane Society. His life was filled with empathy, compassion and kindness to all living things.

Alexius Baas was a man of vision and determination when it came to the growth of Dane County Humane Society. In addition, he was also a renaissance man, a master of other professions including actor, musician, composer, journalist, radio broadcaster, teacher and humanitarian.

Born in 1885, Alexius attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then went to Berlin, Germany, to study German Lieder, songs written for piano and voice from the 19th century Romantic period. After returning to America, he toured the country with Ben Greet’s Shakespearean Players and then headed to Columbia College in Seattle, Washington, to lead the vocal department. He returned to Madison, Wisconsin, and opened the Wisconsin School of Music in 1912, and traveled year after year with his opera tours. Aside from music, Alexius earned a reputation as a conservationist, education director of Dane County Humane Society and long-time Madison newspaper columnist and critic.

Alexius was involved with spreading the message of humane education from a very early age. He infused this into his work in various ways and lived the message he wanted to send to others. The city of Madison and the surrounding areas were eager to start incorporating humane education into schools, neighborhoods and community centers.

Alexius Baas with Darrel Swetmre, a young Madisonian who saved animals from a fire.

According to the Capital Times, December 6, 1929, the city and county approved $75 to be used to further humane work among county school children. This contribution was appropriated by Dane County Humane Society for the purpose of carrying on this work in Madison and surrounding area schools. According to Leo Schleck, principal of Emerson School in Madison during that time,

"By having students write on “My Pet” or some other subject directly connected with humane work instead of writing upon some theoretical subject, the pupils actually get much benefit."

According to the Wisconsin Sate Journal, Humane Week was observed April 21-27 1930. Events in Dane County were unfolding to help show the necessity for kindness to animals. The Capitol Theater had been the venue for a party planned by DCHS for school children, and would feature the films, My Dog and The Bell of Attry. In addition to these festivities, Kennedy Dairy Company used a special “Be Kind to Animals,” cap on all milk bottles delivered during this week.

Alexius was a huge animal enthusiast and maintained various backyard feeders for squirrels, chipmunks and birds. This was considered by some as quite the zoo! He joined the DCHS board members during the 1940s. Herbert Sigglekow, cousin to Alexius, was the executive secretary for DCHS for many years until his death in the mid-1940s.

Beginning in the 1940s, Alexius broadcast the weekly Sunday program Pet Corner on WIBA radio on behalf of DCHS. The show featured animal-related material, such as poetry, interviews and individual animal feature stories. Following Alexius’ retirement, his wife, Evelyn, who was a board member and membership chair for DCHS, continued the radio broadcast.

Alexius was also a columnist for the Capital Times, where he featured, “All Around the Town.” This column consisted of information about being a responsible pet owner and also helped people rehome their pets. DCHS's first “Pet of the Week” column was published in the Wisconsin State Journal around 1954. Alexius’ articles ranged from topics such as the cruelty of using animals in atomic bomb testing to giving credit to a Mrs. Winterling for providing a bird sanctuary in her yard and keeping her cat on a leash.

During the mid-1940s, Alexius served as the education coordinator for DCHS and continued supporting humane education until his death in 1970. He would visit rural schools and tell children stories and facts about animals. He also encouraged children to send him letters about their own animal stories, and hundreds of children did just that! He praised teachers for doing a wonderful job with the students and encouraged others to visit these schools as well.

During February, 1948, Alexius' column mentioned a Chicago boys’ jail whose inmates’ second offences dropped from 42% to 10% after making changes that included putting the boys in charge of taking care of animals and gardens.

Alexius also shared a story, in one of his newspaper columns, about how he and his wife nursed a horribly abused cat back to health. After seeing her at DCHS, they took her home, gave her the care she needed and grew to love her.

As his radio broadcasting, newspaper columns and school visits continued during the 1950s, he promoted, “Be Kind to Animals” week. He included a story about a boy who saved a dog from falling through the ice. The boy was honored and given a medal for his kindness to animals. Alexius’ promotion of compassion toward animals had a positive impact on Madison area schools and communities.

By the late 1950s, about 100 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were touring the shelter each month. He continued reading letters from children during his radio broadcasts (gaining national attention), took research trips to New York and Chicago and helped with fundraising efforts to build a new facility on Pennsylvania Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. Upon his retirement in the late 1960s, his wife continued to support his efforts.

Alexius’ life was enriched by spreading his joy of the world around him, as he inspired others to take care of other living beings. Being that he was a conservationist and education director at Dane County Humane Society, he requested memorials be sent to DCHS upon his death.

Alexius Baas, known singer, actor, writer, composer, Justice of the Peace and educator died on January 29, 1970.

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