The Life He Led, the Wake He Left

My late grandfather Elmer Baumgartner left quite the “wake.” 

The term “wake” comes from clinical psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Henry Cloud, who compares the idea of leaving a legacy to a concept he calls “the wake.” Just as a boat leaves a wake in its path when it goes through the water, so a person also leaves a wake as he or she goes through life.

Dr. Cloud further says that this wake involves two main areas: task and relationship. You can learn a lot about a person by observing what he or she accomplishes and how he or she deals with people.  I would add that who we are in Christ and our character are also major contributors to our wake or legacy.

So how does this apply to my grandfather? Elmer was a godly man and a well-respected leader in the local church and in the community. He was the president of the First Bank of Berne in the town of Berne, Indiana, where I grew up. For a number of years, he also served as the president of the bankers’ association in Indiana, so he kept quite busy.

Throughout the time that I spent with him, it was evident to me that Elmer was a man of integrity and purpose. In addition to being faithful to his wife, Bertha, and in his role as the father of their five children, he also had a sincere passion to help people from all walks of life.

I didn’t learn this until after he died, but his wake also included investing God’s Word in the lives of the young couples in the Sunday school class he taught for 20 years. In preparation to teach this class, he would spend about 10 hours each week studying the Bible lesson. My mother told me she remembered him starting his Bible study on Sunday afternoon as he began to prepare for the following week!

To me, Elmer lived out Malachi 2: 6-7, which says, “True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”


Elmer loved God’s Word and he loved Jesus Christ. It showed in the life he led and the wake he left. I’m so thankful to be a part of his family legacy.

Like the example of the priest from the Malachi passage, Elmer was a man of compassion and commitment who walked with God in peace and uprightness. God used him to touch many who came across his path. He remains an inspiration to me.

The wake we leave has quite an impact on those who follow after us. In my life, I’ve been blessed by the positive wake left by many people, my grandfather included. 

How about you? Whose wake has had a significant effect on you? What kind of wake would you like to leave?

Bob Reusser directs the Nav Encore Mission of The Navigators. You can learn more about his ministry here.

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