Ranger Hal's Love Of Children Remains
By Dave Montoro, Times-Union Staff Writer
Florida Times-Union, July 17, 1978

In every child's life, there is a painful period when no one seems to understand -- when even parents and other children just can't seem to provide the answers.

For 10 years, a man named Henry Baranek helped bridge those growing pains for many Jacksonville youngsters. He was known to fans of his WJXT-TV morning show as Ranger Hal.

Perhaps Baranek ("I was Henry Baran for 22 years. They had a hard time spelling Baran so you can imagine what would have happened with Baranek.") was able to communicate to those thousands of children because his philosophy was a simple one of respect.

"When we started, everyone had an idea of what a children's show should be like," he said. "Mine was that you had to be yourself and secondly that children are not idiots. I just couldn't bring myself to do kiddie talk."

After years of association with broadcasting, Baranek went in a new direction. He tried freelance advertising work for a time after his program was cancelled in 1969, but freelancing presented problems.

"I did nothing for almost six months. I was not consciously looking for a job," he said. "If you know about freelancing, there's very good money in it if you're doing something and then there are times there's nothing to do, so the period when there was nothing to do was getting longer and longer -- it's really a trap. You don't know when it's going to end -- until one morning I woke up and said 'whoa!'"

I realized my image was bad. My image was one of a television star who had made a lot of money who was not used to doing any particular kind of work. That really was a handicap."

Prospective employers assumed that Baranek wasn't used to the kind of hard work that he would face outside the entertainment field so they passed him by. Finally he decided the only answer was to drastically change his image. The opportunity came for a safety director's position at a local paper mill and he took it. The three years in that job put him over the post-show biz hump.

Now Baranek works as a salesman for Weber Marking Systems Inc., covering the North Florida/South Georgia area. He has settled into the role and is satisfied with his life. But his fondest memories are of those days when Ranger Hal was a household word.
"Every one (year) was a pleasure -- everything was a pleasure," he said. "From the moment I got into television and radio it was just terrific. I feel best in a studio. I walk into a studio and I breathe well."

In some ways, the aura of Ranger Hal still roams the area. Youngsters who grew up with Baranek's face every morning from 7:05-7:50 still remember.

"I was at a business meeting in Atlanta and during the course of the meeting we had a representative of the phone company come in," he recalled. "Everybody introduced themselves and she said 'You know, you look familiar' -- she was from Orange Park. This happens all the time."

It's no wonder that those who saw Baranek as children now remember him. During the show's first week, he received 7,000 pieces of mail. The program had been intended merely as a 13-week replacement for the vacationing Captain Kangaroo, but turned into a local phenomenon.

Though Saturday was the only day that children actually appeared on the show, Baranek saw many of his fans both in the studio and during personal appearances.

"One of the first times I went out to make a personal appearance I got out into a crowd and a fellow about 8 said 'Are you a real ranger?' And I said I could work with the rangers whenever I wanted to -- I was lying," Baranek said sheepishly.

"Then the kid says 'Do know how to operate the alidade (surveying instrument)?' Now I never knew what an alidade was -- I realized that the kids study...the children are not idiots. So I took him over to the side and I asked him 'Do you really want to know?' And he said 'No.' That to me was more information about what I was doing than you can go to college for years and find out."

Baranek's 10 years as Ranger Hal hold fond memories for him.

"One morning, someone told me I had some visitors in the lobby," he said. "When I got out there, there was a mother, a dad, and two sons...the older boy who was about 8 was wearing glasses and he got on the couch.

"The parents explained he was going...to have an eye operation. The kid was aware that he might not be able to see after the operation...so he wanted to come see Ranger Hal up close and run his hands over my face so that when we met next time, if he couldn't see, he could still tell it was me.

"I tell you," Baranek said quietly, "that'll knock you out."
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