LIMA — Not long after declining health forced him to retire in the spring of 1941, Dr. John Bayliff estimated that, in the half century he had been practicing medicine in the Uniopolis area, he had brought more than 2,000 babies into the world.
Dr. Bayliff and his wife, Lucinda, unable to have children of their own, also made a world for two boys they adopted from a Cincinnati children’s home.
One of those boys, Russell Bayliff, who died in 2000, grew up to head the sociology department at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.
The other boy, Walter Bayliff, bought a funeral home and settled in to serve the Cridersville area, not only as a funeral director but also as the chief of the volunteer fire department for a quarter century. Several generations later, the Bayliff & Son Funeral Home and the Bayliff family remain an integral part of the village.
Walter Bayliff started life as Walter Dittmur. “His parents, circus aerialists, had performed in the U.S. in 1906 with the German Haguenbach Circus at the St. Louis World’s Fair,” columnist Hope Strong wrote in the Lima Citizen on June 28, 1959. “Two years later while touring with the circus in Cincinnati, Mr. and Mrs. Dittmur contracted typhoid fever and both died.”
Walter wound up in an orphanage and, a year later, was adopted by Dr. Bayliff. He attended Uniopolis elementary school, was graduated from Wapakoneta ‘s Blume High School and spent three years as a pre-med student at Ohio Wesleyan before changing course. “Dad wanted one of us to follow his profession, but we just couldn’t,” Walter Bayliff told Strong. “I worked a year and in 1930 went to the Columbus Training School for Embalmers. I decided that was what I liked and wanted to do.”
And he was good at it. “Ranking fourth high in a field of 102 applicants taking the state embalmers’ examination, Walter E. Bayliff, of Lima, Monday was informed by Charles Gladding of Cleveland, inspector for the state board of embalmers, that he had won his master embalmer’s degree,” The Lima News reported on Oct. 29, 1934. “The mortician made a near-perfect mark in the examination.”
From 1931 to 1938, Bayliff was employed at the Cantwell Funeral Home in Lima. In 1938, he became a partner in the Umbaugh and Bayliff Funeral Home, which was in a building now occupied by Blass Residential Services at 223 W. Main St. in Cridersville.
While working for Cantwell, Walter Bayliff married Lois Johnston, of Lima, and the couple had five children – John, Mary Margaret, Charles Budd, James and Thomas – over a little more than a half dozen years beginning with John in 1936.
In 1942, Walter Bayliff bought out J.E. Umbaugh. Five years later, in 1947, the Bayliff Funeral Home moved a block west into a home that had been built in 1879 in what had been a rural area at 311 W. Main St. Remodeled in 1947, it was expanded in 1974 and remodeled again in 1995.
Walter Bayliff’s son, John, recalled in a 2002 story in The Lima News that, before additions to the building, if two funerals were happening at the same time, “one casket was in the family’s living room.”
“I grew up in a funeral home. Our home was the funeral home,” John E. Bayliff told The Lima News. “I was Dad’s shadow; there was never any question about what I was going to do. Dad always said if you’re big enough to eat, you’re big enough to work.”
So closely associated was he associated with the funeral home, John Bayliff noted, that he learned to drive behind the wheel of the the funeral home’s 1938 Plymouth hearse.
Work filled Walter Bayliff’s life. In addition to operating the funeral home — a job that required him to be on call 24 hours a day — he served the village as chief of the volunteer fire department from 1939 to 1964.
“Neither the firemen nor Bayliff receive any pay for their services or for attending twice monthly meetings and practice sessions,” Strong wrote in the Citizen in 1959. “We do it for a selfish reason. By helping to diminish fire loss we are insuring ourselves and our families in case of fire,” Bayliff told Strong. “Besides there is a certain fascination in fire trucks and equipment,” he said. “It is not hard to get volunteers at all.” Among those volunteers would be his son, John Bayliff, who also served on the volunteer fire department for many years.
Besides “his tremendous efforts for the fire department,” Strong pointed out that Walter Bayliff served as mayor of Cridersville in 1940 (filling an unexpired term), as village council member and president. He served on the committee that spearheaded the move to create Tower Park and, as member of yet another committee in the early 1970s, aided in the effort to erect a memorial near St. Johns to Blackhoof, the last principle chief of the Shawnee, who is believed to be buried near there.
Like many funeral homes of the early and mid-20th century, Bayliff also operated an ambulance service. Unlike most other funeral homes, Bayliff continued the service into the 1970s. “The funeral home announced in 1972 they would join other area funeral homes in dropping the service but continued the program as a service to the community when past moves to develop a rescue squad fell through,” the News wrote Aug. 14, 1975. The ambulance service, which the funeral home had operated since 1938, was taken over by the village in February 1976.
When Walter Bayliff died in August 1977, the family business was left in capable family hands. His oldest son, John Bayliff, who had become a licensed embalmer, joined his father in Bayliff & Son in 1959. Two other sons, James Bayliff and Thomas Bayliff, also became funeral directors. Thomas Bayliff opened the Thomas E. Bayliff Funeral Home in Spencerville in July 1968, while James Bayliff is associated with the Frings & Bayliff Funeral Home in Tipp City.
In 1979, Bayliff & Son opened its first crematory. In 1999, when an Ohio law mandated that humans and pets have separate crematories, Bayliff opened a second crematory for pets. A grave marker business was opened in 2001.
Today, a sort-of retired John Bayliff, the “Son” in Bayliff & Son, has been joined by his two daughters. Becky Bayliff is a licensed funeral director, while Valery Bayliff-Fultz is certified in pre-need life insurance. Among the funeral home’s five employees is Angela Knott, Valery’s daughter.
Although the business has come a long way since Walter Bayliff occasionally annexed the family’s living room for services, Becky Bayliff said homage is paid to her grandfather’s penchant for perfection with the “Bayliff nudge,” the slight shifting of an already neatly aligned chair.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.