Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


James Baughn: History and bridge lover, friend to many

James Baughn at a Historic Bridge Weekend Conference in Pittsburgh

The world lost a remarkable individual last week when bridge-lover, history buff and webmaster James Baughn died after losing balance at the edge of a bluff at Trail of Tears State Park. He had been taking photos, something he did most weekends, on one of his many hikes. He was 39 years old, an only child, who will be grievously missed by his families -- at home, at work and in the community.

Baughn worked in the Southeast Missourian building as webmaster, where he was the architect of more than 40 newspaper websites, mobile sites and dozens of specialty digital sites throughout Rust Communications. He also wrote a regular history column and hiking blog for the Southeast Missourian and served on the board of Missouri Preservation, a state organization that advocates for preserving historic architecture and landmarks. He was vice president of the Cape County Historical Society.

James was also founder of bridgehunter.com, one of the world's most comprehensive bridge databases, which connects bridge lovers from around the world online.

I will never forget hiring Baughn, James Baughn (as he was often introduced, with him chuckling in the background). He had come to my attention through a parody website he created, which poked fun at the Southeast Missourian. It was witty and creative; moreover, his code was clean and eloquent. He was a junior in college, and for the next 20 years, an integral part of Southeast Missourian culture. Smart, humble, witty, helpful, well-read, dedicated, amazingly talented, nice and above all: a friend. He was one-of-a-kind, and all who worked with him appreciated and cherished him.

I could go on, but instead, will simply share some comments made about James this week. Some of the comments are from tributes on the Ford & Sons Funeral website. Some are from emails to me and our office. One is from a bridge enthusiast living in Germany, who founded the Bridge Hunter's Chronicles, and recently interviewed James about why he started his bridge-cataloging website.

The comments are a reminder of how much a single individual can impact others. And how fragile life is.

"James sent me down many, many rabbit holes with his databases of bridges and landmarks. I would go there to search for one thing, then realize that I had been online for an hour. For such a young man, he had an old man's love and knowledge of the area's history. It's going to be hard, if not impossible, to grow another James to fill the void." -- Ken Steinhoff

"As part of the BridgeHunter community, I am shocked and saddened. James created a gathering place for people with a passion for bridges and exploring, and a resource unlike any other for ordinary folks. ... The community he created will long remember him." -- C. Vance.

"Absolutely heartbreaking. Such an amazing person and always willing to help. He will be missed."-- Shelia Rouse

"We were stunned to hear this tragic news. ... I worked with James for a short time, but my husband and I remained friends with him over the years after we moved away from Cape, and we were happy to be able to visit with him several times since. He was generous with a helping hand when I first started working at the newspaper, and as I got to know him better, was most impressed by his remarkable knowledge and capabilities. I always enjoyed a conversation with him, and came to value his friendship greatly. I am sure all of us who knew him feel the greatest esteem for all his achievements and contributions to his many areas of interest. Most of all, he will be remembered as a good friend, and a kind and generous human being ..."-- Lisha Jayasinghe

"One of the kindest people I have ever known. His love of nature is to be remembered always."-- Judi Naeter

"He was an outstanding resource for all of us interested in local and regional history. It will be hard for anyone to fill his shoes. He was a splendid fellow and was indeed a blessing to our community. ..."--Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr.

"He truly was a guru of all things Internet related and always so willing to help solve any issues we came across. James will certainly be missed and always remembered." -- Todd Nolen

"I only knew James through his bridgehunter website, and I am stunned to hear of his passing. My heart is heavy with the knowledge and send sympathy and condolences to his family. He is known nationally by his historic preservation efforts, and he will truly be missed."-- Art Suckewer

"I loved his stories of hiking various trails throughout the area. ... His ability to share the story made you feel like you were on the trail with him. Good, good person and very talented writer. ..."-- Jim Litzelfelner

"One of my best finds when I moved here in 2000 was James' [blog] 'When Pavement Ends.' It taught me so much about this area of the U.S. Truly, this is a soul who will be missed."-- Marlene Cloude

"Our community has lost an advocate, a kind and generous person who was always happy to share what he knew. He helped me with a question I had on a historic home we renovated, graciously and happily, for the pure love of local history. He had such a heart for our area." -- Stacy Dohogne Lane

"I am at a complete loss at such a sudden and tragic event. My deepest condolences to my friends Stan and Deb. James' passing leaves a big gap in the ranks of those who love local history, but he will live on in his writings and the hearts of those who knew him."-- Bill Eddleman

"The Bridgehunting community is mourning the loss of a great pontist, whose main goal was ... to explore new things and save the old ones for the next generations to see. James Baughn was an original: a person who was really helpful and really dedicated to his work. ... Many who have worked with him found him to be the person I consider him to be: one with extensive knowledge, a lot of skill at solving the toughest of problems and one who can lead the way when it is needed. He was a very kind and selfless person, and one who was there when we needed his help. We hung out a lot during our bridgehunting tours and enjoyed every stop at every historic bridge. With his loss, we lost a great bridge librarian and an even greater friend. With his loss, it's up to us to pick up where he had started and, sadly, left off."-- Jason Smith (from Germany, founder of the Bridge Hunter's Chronicles. For Smith's tribute and recent interview with Baughn, click here.)

"Our hearts are broken. He was definitely a wonderful man and loved his work." -- DeAnna Nelson

"He will be greatly missed on so many fronts. What an amazing guy with so much knowledge and love of life and fellow mankind. I for one will never forget him and the pleasure I enjoyed when working with him. May he go rest high on the Lord's mountain: his work here on earth is done." -- Don Koehler

Over the past few days, I've spent much time with James' mother and father, Debra and Stan Baughn. My heart goes out to them. They are good, humble people, who helped spark James' love of history with their volunteering at the Red House and other local historical organizations. And they introduced him to computers with what their son described as his "favorite Christmas gift," a Tandy computer when he was in the third grade.

Mr. Baughn told me, struggling to hold back the tears, "Be sure to cherish those around you."

It is wisdom we should all heed. God be with James and his family, all of them: in the community, at work and at home. Let us cherish each other while we can.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.