Social Work’s Betty Baer, 1927-2014

Betty L. Baer

Betty L. Baer (1990s photo)

A primary architect of UW-Green Bay’s undergraduate and graduate programs in Social Work — and a respected and influential state and national leader in both curriculum and practice — has passed away.

Prof. Betty L. Baer died Wednesday (Sept. 10) at her Green Bay-area home after a lengthy illness. She was 87. A full obituary has not yet been published, but St. Anne’s Episcopal Church of De Pere — where Baer and her partner, Ann McLean, have been active and longstanding members — shares word that a memorial service is scheduled for Saturday (Sept. 13) at 11:30 a.m., to be preceded by visitation at 10:30 a.m.

Baer joined the UW-Green Bay faculty in fall 1985 as an associate professor of Social Work, and was the driving force in achieving the program’s initial accreditation. She served as chairperson of the department. She also was an early advocate of bringing graduate-level education to the Green Bay area, culminating with the launch of a joint master’s degree program with UW-Oshkosh. Baer retired from the University in 1996.

Betty Baer

Her national reputation in baccalaureate social work education had been achieved years earlier when she was a faculty member with West Virginia University. She collaborated with Prof. Ron Frederico on the Undergraduate Social Work Curriculum Project, important work that served to conceptualize and define generalist social work and competency-based practice, culminating in a comprehensive national report and book titled, Educating the Baccalaureate Social Worker, released in 1978.

In recognition of those and related efforts, Baer was honored in 1979 as “Baccaulaureate Social Work Educator of the Year” by her national professional organization.

Commented colleague Doreen Higgins, now an associate professor with the UW-Green Bay program and formerly a student of Baer’s in the late 1980s, “Betty leaves a remarkable legacy in social work education and practice. We certainly owe a great deal of gratitude to her for her many significant contributions.”

At UW-Green Bay, Higgins adds, Baer worked tirelessly in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to win federal IV-E grant funding for child welfare training and child welfare stipends for students — now in effect among social work programs in Wisconsin.  As part of this effort, she developed the Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Partnership for Children and Families at UW-Green Bay, now in operation for nearly 20 years, providing training and outreach to child welfare agencies and their constituents across 26 northeastern Wisconsin counties. A notable component of the program was its emphasis on extending service and professional training opportunities to tribal child welfare professionals, in keeping with Baer’s deep interest in American Indian culture and society.

“You cannot be a social worker without being concerned about children and families,” she told a Green Bay Press-Gazette interviewer in 1995. “What we’re trying to do about it is, through training, to do the best we can to prepare practitioners who have to do the very best possible job they can do with these families.

“We have to do more to prevent families from breaking up in the first place.”

Baer’s service to the Northeastern Wisconsin community extended beyond her UW-Green Bay appointment. She was a vice chairman of the United Way of Brown County, an enthusiastic volunteer for a variety of causes, and a leader of efforts by local Episcopal churches to reach under-served populations, champion social justice and serve the growing Hispanic community.

She remained a staunch supporter of social work education and UW-Green Bay in retirement, and her campus involvement includes recent service to the UW-Green Bay Retiree Association and an oral history project leading up to the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding. Baer conducted and taped numerous interviews for the project.

A native of Pennsylvania, Baer earned her bachelor’s in sociology and social work at West Virginia, her master’s in social work at Syracuse University, and her Ph.D. in social policy at the University of Pittsburgh.

The online obituary for Baerr noted that, “In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to a scholarship recently established in Betty’s name by a former student. To contribute to the Dr. Betty Baer Endowed Scholarship, visit or send contributions in her name to the UW-Green Bay Foundation, 2420 Nicolet Drive, CL 805, Green Bay, WI 54311.”

You may also like...