TRAVERSE CITY — Ivanka Baic Berkshire learned something new from her father, Vojin Baic, every day.
They laughed. They joked. There were times when they were serious and times when they were emotional. It all changed so fast because life’s too short to dwell, Ivanka said.
“I’m going to miss everything (about my dad),” she said through tears. “I’m going to miss everything.”
Baic, of Traverse City, passed away on Monday at age 89. Ivanka, her brothers Nick and Milan Baic, and Milan’s wife, Carrie, were by his side. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary “Pat” Patricia Baic, whom he was married to for nearly 61 years.
Baic was a 1948 Olympian, having represented Yugoslavia in Nordic skiing. He escaped from Yugoslavia in 1950 during the world rowing championship in Amsterdam, traveling first to Belgium and then to the United States. He joined the United States Army because he wanted to serve his country and as a way to gain citizenship, Nick said.
“Even though he wasn’t born here, he was quite the American,” Nick said. People would hear Baic’s accent, ask where he was from and he’d tell them America, he said.
One of Baic’s favorite songs was “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” said Ivanka. The lyrics — which included the line, “I chose freedom, running around trying everything new” — resonated with him, she said.
“He choose freedom,” Ivanka said, referring to her dad’s escape.
Baic founded Traverse City’s first Nordic ski program and served as the city’s Parks and Recreation director. Baic was involved in Hickory Hills for more than 40 years and the "It’s a Baic" Nordic loop there is named after him. He was a co-founder of the North American Vasa.
He was inducted into the Grand Traverse Ski Club Hall of Fame in 2010. The Hall of Fame was created in 2008 to honor individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Grand Traverse Ski Club and to the skiing community, the group’s website said.
Milan said the essence of his dad was “his desire and commitment,” which first and foremost was to his family, but also was to the health and activity of youth.
“He cared about so many different sports and activities and just overall health,” Milan said. “He was a visionary, really.”
Ivanka also described her dad as a visionary, saying that strong people wanted to be with him. He knew he wasn’t perfect and didn’t want to be put on some pedestal, she said.
Erica O’Hearn, Milan’s daughter and Baic’s granddaughter, said Baic was one of her biggest cheerleaders growing up.
“He always put family first — and his family was quite the extended family with the community,” she said. “Everywhere you go, people know my grandpa. It was pretty cool to have such a special person in my life.”
Anne Schwartz, a friend of O’Hearn’s who also knew Baic, said he was an amazing asset to the community and put in countless hours coaching both youth and adults.
“He was extremely dedicated,” Schwartz said.
Craig Elhart, an attorney in Traverse City, said he was devastated when he heard that Baic had passed away. Elhart knew Baic for more than 30 years, having met him right after he came to town when he was taking his children to Hickory Hills.
Elhart said Baic was the “voice of Hickory Hills.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “You could call the voicemail and it was, ‘Hickory Hills will be open today.’ (Baic) had a wonderful voice.”
Baic was a wonderful skier and a real credit to the community and ski industry, Elhart said.
Mike Haley, president of the Vasa Board of Directors, met Baic in the late 1970s. He described Baic as a “national treasure” that played a large role in bringing the sport of Nordic skiing to Traverse City.
Baic was genuinely interested in making sure kids learned the discipline of skiing in a “proper, ethical, old-school way,” Haley said.
“I think he really believed that if somebody learned how to do this the right way, it would really make your life better,” he said.
Nick said he’s going to miss his father being around. Baic never judged, would provide help if it was wanted or just an ear if someone needed to talk.
“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people," Nick said, "but he’s going to a place where a lot of his friends are.”