Jerry Bailey found so much joy in life, he wouldn’t let fear get in the way.
He zip-lined above North Carolina’s lush canopy near the Green River Gorge — an approximately three-hour, 1,100-feet descent.
Three years earlier, he parachuted from 10,000 feet to celebrate his 70th birthday. It was his eighth and highest jump. He had a GoPro on his head that documented every second of the dive.
“He loved the thrill of it and the freedom of it,” said Mary Jo Bailey, his wife of 23 years. “He would do it again … celebrating his next birthday. He loved it that much.”
Jerry Bailey, of Minnetonka, died from sudden cardiac arrest in April while vacationing in Florida, 10 days before his 73rd birthday.
A combination of childhood memories of flying with his father and the unbelievable sense of “feeling alive” made Bailey an adventure enthusiast. He loved seeing the world below him from hot air balloons and airplanes.
“Jerry was gutsy that way,” said his older brother Ron.
He was born four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Fairmont, Minn., to an insurance salesman and a homemaker. He was greatly influenced by his father, who joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II. During the war, his family stayed with his mother’s parents in Iowa for a few years. They made a stop in California when Bailey was in fourth grade and returned to Humboldt, Iowa, north of Des Moines, when his grandfather passed away.
As a kid, Bailey hiked, fished and went ice skating on frozen lakes with his siblings. “Back in the day we took off and did our thing,” Ron Bailey said. They shared a paper route when they lived in Iowa, and they were always working.
At Iowa State University, Bailey was a collegiate diver, often using acrobatic moves to plummet into the pool from several meters above — a passion his granddaughter Juliette enjoys as well. He studied landscape architecture and was in the ROTC program.
After graduation, he served as a first lieutenant for the Army Corps of Engineers in Vietnam. He built airfields and used his landscape architecture degree as much as he could. He was in charge of designing and building a large nondenominational chapel, his brother said.
Bailey earned the U.S. Army Legion of Merit award and a Bronze Star for “consistently surpassing the highest of expectations through his willingness to sacrifice himself to serve with devotion and excellence.”
After returning to Minnesota in the late 1960s, he began working as a landscape architect and formed Bailey & Associates in Minnetonka. With a staff of 12, the consulting firm provided land planning and urban design services to different types of clientele. He then opened Arteka Corp. with his brother Ron. Arteka built the projects that Bailey & Associates designed. At one point they had up to nine landscape architects. The brothers were in business together for 21 years before they sold it.
Bailey received many professional recognitions and was involved with more than 2,000 projects. But the culmination of his career is the SkyRidge Business Center and Nature Preserve on Baker Road in Minnetonka. He created many granite sculptures on the 17-acre site, including one that’s often called “Jerry Stonehenge” and another called the “Ring the Fire.”
Bailey’s daughters said he taught them independence. “He wanted us to love him, but not need him,” said Erin Sansone, his younger daughter. His advice was always along the lines of, “ ‘What does your gut tell you?’ Giving me the tools to stand on my own two feet,” she said.
His elder daughter, Kristin Lafon, said her father was a “teacher of life principles, values and integrity.”
Along with his wife, Mary Jo, his two daughters and brother Ron, Bailey is survived by another brother, Denis; sister Marlys Bayse; five grandchildren, nieces, nephews and many more relatives. A celebration of his life is being planned.