Happy 105th Birthday to Agnes Baron - A Founder and Lifetime Caretaker of Meher Mount
January 17, 2012
Agnes Baron - Fiery Caretaker, Crusader, and Meher Baba Devotee
AGNES BARON & AVATAR MEHER BABA at Meher
Mount, August 2, 1956. (Archive photo.)
Agnes Baron, whom Avatar Meher Baba called
His "watchdog," was born 105 years ago today on January 17, 1907. Agnes Baron, along with Jean Adriel
and Alexander Markey, were founders of Meher Mount.
Agnes played the role of "watchdog" as
caretaker of Meher Mount in Ojai, California, from 1946 until her death on July 5, 1994.
Agnes was often called "Agni," meaning "fire"
in Sanskrit. She often exhibited a fiery passion: for Meher Baba, for what she perceived as truth, and for
service to anyone suffering or in need.
She explained her approach as "karma yoga,"
and said one can't know if you are "helping" others and the goal is to forget yourself in service while
being detached from the results. She demonstrated this approach throughout her life.
Agnes as a Young
Agnes' parents refused to support her when at
16 years old, she enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio, a progressive institution too far away for the
Having little money of her own, Agnes was
taken in by a prominent Hindu professor, Manmatha Chatterjee, and his family at Antioch. She
introduced him to Meher Baba many years later.
AGNES BARON'S BUSINESS CARD when she was a journalist in the 1930s and
Traveling Alone in Europe & the Middle East
After college she travelled alone around Europe and the Middle
East, working some of the time as a correspondent for
the Herald Tribune.
She assisted the U.S. State Department by writing economic
analyses aimed at helping Balkan countries bolster their capabilities for staying out of the expanding Axis
sphere during the 1930s. For a while, she lived with bandits in the mountains of Albania.
As World War II loomed, she watched the Nazis march into
Vienna, Austria. In Lisbon, Portugal, Agnes worked to help Jewish and other refugees escape the death
and oppression they faced in Europe. She stayed until all Americans were told they must leave
when the U.S. entered the war.
During her time in Europe, she said, she visited 13 countries
and learned 13 languages well enough to get by.
AGNES BARON (left) and MANI
IRANI (right), Meher Baba's sister, in front of the Blue Bus at Meherazad, India,
in 1982. In the background is Bhau Kalchuri. (Amy Nadel Romanczuk photo.)
Return to the United States
When Agnes returned to the U.S.,
Professor Chatterjee suggested she go to California and look into what Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard
and Christopher Isherwood were up to.
In the early 1940s, they were researching and
experimenting with various "spiritual" activities and communities.
Isherwood introduced her to the swamis at the
Vedanta mission to the West, based on the life and work of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, at a time when the swamis from
India were developing Vedanta temples at
various locations in California.
Agnes was quite taken with the teachings and
life of Sri Ramakrishna. She joined
Isherwood and the swamis in a celebration
inaugurating the new Temple in Montecito, near Santa Barbara.
The Life of a Vedanta
Agnes asked the head swami if she could live
the life of a Vedanta nun at the Santa Barbara Temple.
He said yes and that he would be glad to
initiate her personally. Agnes
told him no, that she knew from reading Ramakrishna that one must have a deep rapport with one's spiritual
teacher, and that she did not feel that with him.
The swami was taken aback, as they had never
allowed anyone to live the cloistered life without initiation by one of the swamis.
For Agnes, they made an exception. She
was the first live-in person at the Montecito Temple where she lived the meditative life for a year.
AGNES BARON November 1979.
Agnes Meets Jean Adriel, Author of Avatar
Shortly after that experience, Agnes was introduced
to Jean Adriel, Chairman of the New Life Foundation.
The foundation owned a large parcel of land called The New
Life Center at La Crescenta, near Los Angeles, California.
Jean was writing the book Avatar, a biography of Avatar Meher
Baba. When she heard that Agnes was a journalist, she asked if Agnes would edit the book for
her. That was Agnes Baron's introduction to the life and words of Meher Baba.
Agnes said that she did edit Avatar for Jean. Reading
the book convinced her that if it was true, Meher Baba was truly something very special.
From that time on, there was no question that her life
revolved around Meher Baba.
AGNES BARON (back) and MARGARET CRASKE (front), a
professional dance instructor and one of Meher Baba's close Western disciples clearing
weeds at Meher Mount, sometime in the late 1950s or early 160s. (Archive photo.)
The Founding of Meher Mount
Meher Baba's guidance also led Meher Mount founders Jean
Adriel, Alexander Markey, and Agnes Baron to the heights of Sulphur Mountain in 1946 and the founding of
Meher Mount. (See sidebar at the right.)
Agnes was not on the board of directors of the New Life
She said she just wanted to be the "outside
man" at Meher Mount, discing and mowing with the caterpillar tractor, wielding a scythe,
posthole diggers, crosscut saws for firewood, and generally working as a laborer at her labor of
Karma Yoga Is a Central Practice in Agnes' Life
Throughout her 48 years at Meher Mount, Agnes continued to
find ways to practice karma yoga.
She helped start the first Head Start program for pre-school
children in Ventura County.
She studied Montessori education and taught in Montessori
schools and as a substitute teacher in public schools to support herself and pay Meher Mount expenses
through the years.
Agnes helped start a school at Meher Mount that operated for a
few years. Agnes provided a temporary residence for a dozen people in a drug rehabilitation program at
Separately, she worked to assist many programs for alcoholics,
ex-convicts, juvenile delinquents and others.
Agnes was a regular phone volunteer on the Suicide Prevention
Hotline for many years.
one Christmas in the early 1980s. (Sam Ervin photo.)
Agnes Would Search the Newspapers to Identify People
Agnes provided temporary housing to
many people over the years who had lost homes in fires or been evicted or were homeless for other
She would read the newspaper to find stories
of people who needed some form of assistance, then visit them to see if she could offer some service.
She particularly enjoyed taking on officious
"bureaucrats" in fearlessly and relentlessly advocating for someone in need.
She Heeds Meher Baba's Call to Help Get Young People
When Meher Baba told some of the young
Western Baba Lovers to work to get young people off drugs, because illicit drugs were harmful "physically,
mentally and spiritually," Agnes took His words a personal call to action.
Armed with research about various successful
drug programs, she said she "bullied" the County Board of Supervisors into providing $20,000 in 1969 to
enable her to develop "DART," the Drug Abuse Reorientation Training program.
The program provided counseling for
teenagers who had been arrested for drug related offenses at high schools all over Ventura County.
She recruited young Baba Lovers, including
some from UCSB who had experience with psychedelic drugs, to act as "counselors" with whom the kids might identify.
The program was effective with a good number
of the teenagers, and their families and Agnes continued to get County funding for it for several
AGNES BARON GIVING INSTRUCTIONS to Sam Ervin, Silence Day in the 1970s.
(Margaret Magnus photo.)
Agnes Was a Mentor to Many Young Baba
Agnes was a mentor to many young Baba Lovers
who found their way to Meher Mount over the years, and many of them have remarkable stories of their
interactions with her.
At the same time, she was not always easy to
be around. She had strong opinions, which she emphatically expressed.
She challenged people, especially if she
detected self-righteousness, smugness, selfishness or what she called a "pink-cloud" attitude toward
She would say, "Okay, Baba, I'll be a
watchdog. I'll snap at the heels of the hypocrites."
FOUNDING OF MEHER MOUNT
Meher Baba's guidance also led Meher Mount founders Jean Adriel, Alexander
Markey, and Agnes Baron to the heights of Sulphur Mountain in 1946.
They were on an outing in search of suitable property for a
retreat dedicated to Meher Baba.
His directive was to find a location at least one to two hours
away from the city.
As they motored along the Upper Ojai Valley from Santa Paula to
Ojai that afternoon, the sunlight beaming through a crown of tall trees far atop the ridge of Sulphur
Mountain caught the eye of Agnes Baron. She insisted they find their way there.
After winding up the long dirt road to the only residential
property on the mountain at the time, Agnes jumped the fence to explore what would become Meher
There was no for sale sign, but they later located the owner, an
heiress in the Ralph's grocery store family, and she was open to selling the property.
The New Life Foundation sold the Center in La Crescenta and
closed escrow on the Meher Mount property on August 9, 1946.
Agnes Baron lived at Meher Mount from 1946 until she required
care in a nursing home in Ojai shortly before she died in 1994.
From the beginning, she had thought of a large solitary coast
live oak on the point of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands as "Baba's Tree" and by
He claimed it as His own when He came there on August 2,
Meher Baba first planned to first visit Meher Mount in June 1952
for a 10-day stay.
But during the cross-country drive from Meher Spiritual Center
in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Meher Mount in Ojai, California, Meher Baba was in an automobile
accident near Prague, Oklahoma.
After the accident, he recuperated in Prague and then returned
to Myrtle Beach, not visiting Meher Mount until 1956.
In 1956, Avatar Meher Baba visited Southern California for three
days from July 31 through August 2.
The first two days were spent in Hollywood, and on the third day
Meher Baba went to Meher Mount in Ojai.
STORIES OF AGNES BARON & MEHER MOUNT
If you have a story or information to share about Agnes Baron and/or
Meher Mount, please contact Meher Mount. These memories are
precious and will be of interest to future generations.
Also, all photographs are greatly appreciated and can help capture the feeling and essence of the
AMARTITHI OPEN HOUSE - JANUARY
Please join us on Tuesday, January 31st for the open house in celebration of
Meher Baba's Amartithi, the anniversary of the day He "dropped His body."
You are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the views.
All stories, songs, poems and inspirational quotes are greatly
appreciated. There will be time under Baba's Tree for sharing.
Click here for more information on the Amartithi Open House.
Photo: Marker for Agnes Baron under Baba's Tree.
(Nancy Pinckert photo, 2011.)
PHONATHON BRINGS IN MORE DONATIONS - 90% OF THE
Saturday, January 14, Meher Mount conducted a Phonathon to raise funds for
Meher Mount's Annual Fund campaign.
320 calls including, disconnected phone numbers, completed calls,
49 Pledges and/or donations (a 15% return) and six maybes.
Total Pledged: $24,065
Total Rec'd: 22,955
Meher Mount is still $1,435 away from the goal.
To send a check by mail, make the check
payable to "Meher Mount" and mail to 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road, Ojai, CA 93023
Leslie & Samantha Bridger, Manager/Caretakers
9902 Sulphur Mountain Road Ojai, CA
Meher Mount is a 173-acre universal
dedicated to Avatar Meher Baba.
Visitors come to Meher Mount in Ojai, California, for pilgrimage,
for celebrating Divine Love and Oneness,
for loving God through nature, and for service.