Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Woman in the Polka Dot Dress

My mother-in-law, Irene Baer, passed on Monday, October 10. She was 90 years old and one helluva feisty lady. This is one of my favorite stories about her, edited from a 2011 blog post.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd demonstrating against the Vietnam War at Kent State University, four people killed and nine wounded. Controversy surrounds the exact sequence of events. What is not questioned is the impact that episode had on our country.

The college I attended hugged the Hudson River in upstate New York, and the town rose steeply up a hill where a university sprawled across the top.  My girlfriends and I sometimes dated the university students, attended concerts and sports games, and visited a particular dorm where my girlfriend’s brother and his friends resided.

One warm spring afternoon a few days after Kent State, ROTC took over the university's football field for year-end events. ROTC – Reserve Officer Training Corps – had become a controversial group as anti-war sentiment spilled over onto college campuses.

My girlfriends and I were invited to watch the ROTC ceremony; a friend was leading the parade. We decided to watch the events from a knoll overlooking the football stadium. Three of us settled down on a grassy area.

Soon anti-war demonstrators surrounded us.

ROTC activities began on the field below, the band playing, people marching, speeches given. The protesters ramped up their demonstration, chanting anti-war slogans and waving placards. It was all very civilized, non-threatening yet dramatic.

Suddenly a slim woman, about five feet two or three inches tall, dressed in a sleeveless white dress punctuated with large colored polka-dots, appeared. Grabbing a placard from one of the demonstrators, she began beating him on the head with it, shouting, “if you don’t like things move to Canada” – or something like that. 

The demonstrators, most days conservative, clean-shaven, short-haired, neatly dressed kids, well-behaved and non-threatening (future engineers), suddenly froze, silent, staring at the spectacle. 

The woman stopped after a few minutes and stalked off. Who was that crazy lady? 

The events on the hill went unnoticed by the folks on the field. The ceremonies continued, events concluded, and we walked over to the dorm to meet our friends, immediately launching into a detailed account about the peculiar woman who disrupted the anti-war demonstration. 

In the middle of our narrative several people entered the room. My friends and I stared, open-mouthed and unbelieving.

Standing in front of us was the Woman in the Polka Dot Dress, the crazy lady of head-bashing fame. 

A couple of years later, in a ceremony presided over by a rabbi and witnessed by 120 people, the Woman in the Polka Dot Dress became my mother-in-law.
Irene Baer
January 6, 1926-October 10, 2016
(she loved hats)


  1. What a great story honoring your mother in law. Sorry for your loss.

  2. Helluva story; and please accept my condolences.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Marina. Steve missed that too. Illustrates the importance of careful proofreading.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Wonderful story. Our heartfelt condolences. What a blessing she made of her life!