James J. Baumann, 59, of Westbrook Park, an Acme Markets worker who, despite being blinded at an early age, led a life filled with activity and optimism, died Saturday, March 28, of cancer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Known as Jimmy, Mr. Baumann attended Holy Cross School in Springfield, Delaware County, and graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1973.

At age 18, while he and a friend were playing with a shotgun in Chestnut Hill, the gun discharged accidentally, hitting him in the head. His injuries were so grave that he underwent 27 reconstructive surgeries, his family said.

Although his sight never returned, Mr. Baumann remained upbeat about the future. He lived with his family in Clifton Heights and for a time got around with the help of a Seeing Eye dog named Yazoo.

Before the accident, Mr. Baumann played basketball and football and went bowling. Afterward, he continued competitive sports, winning four gold medals at the Olympics Southeastern Regional games held by the U.S. Association for Blind Athletes in 1988. Three medals were for swimming; the fourth was in the shot put.

Mr. Baumann enrolled in the Settlement Music School, where he learned to play the piano, guitar, and saxophone. He maintained his love of music for the rest of his life.

Mr. Baumann had worked for Acme Markets since 2003. He bagged groceries at the supermarket on Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights. He was much beloved by the store's customers and employees with whom he liked to talk sports.

"He was excellent. Despite his disability, he would show up for work, and there were no issues," said store manager John Kelley. "Customers would ask for him. We're going to miss him. He was a personable guy."

For his high profile in the community - including his support of the Primos-Secane Fire Company and the Holy Cross School's 50/50 club - he was honored with a proclamation granted by Upper Darby Township Mayor James J. Ward on Nov. 15, 1989. The mayor declared it to be James J. Baumann Day.

"This honor was bestowed upon him, not just for what he did, but for the courage with which he did it," said his niece Liz Barr.

He attended Mass daily, always had a joke to tell, never complained or spoke unkindly of anyone, and always saw the bright side of any situation.

"Even after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, his spirit, optimism, faith, and humor never wavered," Barr said.

Besides his niece, Mr. Baumann is survived by his mother, Nancy, and sisters Kathy Munn and Nancy. His father, Joseph, and brother Joey died earlier.

A viewing from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at Holy Cross Church, 651 E. Springfield Rd., Springfield, will be followed by a viewing from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, April 9, at the church. A Funeral Mass is set for 10:30 a.m. Interment is in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery.

Donations may be made to Xavier Society for the Blind, 2 Pennsylvania Plaza, Suite 1102, New York, N.Y. 10121, or The Seeing Eye Inc., Box 375, Morristown, N.J. 07963.

bcook@phillynews.com

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