Cafe goers mourn death of beloved barista

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BENNINGTON — How do you measure a life cut short? In the case of Jason Baumes, who died in a car crash on Sept. 24, his 30 years on earth are perhaps best measured by the relationships he found with others in the Bennington community.

Baumes' wealth of friends and family congregated at South Street Cafe Sunday night to commemorate and celebrate a life rich with human connection.

"We wanted to have it here because this was like a second home to him," said Brian Darr, who bought the South Street Cafe in 2015 alongside Maeve Webster and Steve Darr. "There were a lot of customers that would come in regularly and see him, and they came through the door tonight."

"All of these people are a testament to him" said Webster. "Jason was amazing. I'm sorry that we only knew him for two years."

Baumes was a recognizable figure at the South Street Cafe, often found deep in conversation with a cup of coffee in hand. Recently, Baumes transitioned to crafting cocktails rather than cappuccinos at Manchester's Copper Grouse.

"We'd walk in in the morning and he was always behind the counter," said Gary Miller, a third of the Banulis, Miller, & DeAngelo Jazz Trio that regularly serenades South Street's customers. "He'd always make us feel welcome. He always had a great smile on his face and a funny story, or a good observation about life."

Throughout his years behind South Street's counter, Baumes became known for a complex intelligence — spanning history, music, literature and much more — to those that engaged him in conversation.

"He could relate to anyone. Upon meeting him, you'd be drawn to him if you saw him again," said friend Steven Sola. "You'd want to say hello, you'd want to talk, and the subject wouldn't really matter. That was Jason."

Alongside that intelligence was an affable nature that populated Baumes' life with an abundant community of friends.

"He had this special kind of quality," said Sola, 72, who became close with Baumes despite differences in age. "He was a truly educated man, and a joy and delight to be around. He was my pal."

"He was just such a well rounded guy, he could speak to anyone about anything," said Darr. "He had an impact on, and a friendship with, so many people in town."

That impact was indisputable Sunday night with countless community members filing through South Street's doors, and congregating outside, in celebration of Baumes' life.

"We as adults, as parents, we don't test how the world sees us...We hope that because we can establish friendships, and have good relationships with other people, that we're okay people," said Jason's father, Alan Baumes. "It's difficult for us to know how we are seen, and it's nearly impossible to know how your children are perceived. Except in moments like now."

The warmth and support of Baumes' community was palpable Sunday night, providing a source of strength for those closest to him.

"Jason was a good guy, he was a good friend, and he had good friends. He made an impact on the community, even if it was over the counter in friendly conversation," said Baumes to the crowd. "If there's any way to get through all of this, I'll tell you that your support, your being here, is a pillar. We will not forget it."

For those that knew him best, that outpouring of community support is perhaps the best testament to the life of Jason Baumes.

"He'll be terribly missed. I'm going to miss him," said Sola. "He was just a great part of Bennington.

"If five years down the road, ten years down the road, someone says `you know, I used to know a guy in Bennington, he worked at the cafe ,'" said Alan Baumes. "For that one single moment, Jason will live again."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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