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'Nobody had a better dad' than Bob Barnes' children

By JOE CENTERS • Updated May 18, 2017 at 11:18 AM

There are not many people who would willingly change their careers at the age of 47.

But that’s what Bob Barnes did and he would be the first to say it was the best decision he ever made.

Barnes, former parks and recreation director for Norwalk, died Friday at age 88 and was buried Wednesday. After the ceremony, family and friends gathered for a lunch in the Ernsthausen Community Center community room — overlooking a gym that was named after Barnes in 2002.

Barnes was on the park board and took over the program in 1975 from Austie Shadle. He held the position for 23 years before retiring in 1998.

“When I got home from school he would get home shortly after that and we would get the whole neighborhood together,” said Steve Barnes, the oldest of five children. “He would play. That was the kind of guy he was. ... He wanted all of the kids to play. I think what drove him when he took the job was to make Norwalk a better place.

“He didn’t consider it work. He often told me it was a privilege. ... He was a special guy.”

Steve said his dad worked 12 years at Philco in Sandusky then 13 years at Tenneco in Milan. 

“He thought about it and had the courage to do it,” Steve said. “He took the challenge. He had the courage to take the job. He was a quick learner and very dedicated.”

When Barnes started there was the old Rec Center on Monroe Street and McGuan Park. The program took off with the addition of Baines Park and Ernsthausen Community Center.

“It took him a long time to get that rec center built, but he never gave up,” his son said.

Was he a great dad?

“He was the best,” Steve said. “Nobody had a better dad — maybe as good but not better.”

Most of the children were grown when Barnes took his new job, so it was like starting a new family.

“In a lot of ways he did (adopt a new family),” Steve said. “He was very unselfish. He respected everybody but he demanded the same. I don’t know what other people thought of him. I think most people liked him, but if they didn’t, I think they respected him.”

Ken Leber, a 1996 Monroeville High School graduate, started his career in Norwalk fresh out of Bowling Green State University, then took over as director when Barnes retired.

“He was a great guy,” Leber said. “He taught me everything. He loved his job.”

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Phyllis, his five children, 10 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

Barnes was born March 20, 1929 in Milan, to the late Elden and Nellie (O’Berly) Barnes, and was a lifelong area resident.

He was a three sport letter winner at Norwalk High School, and played American Legion baseball and fast-pitch softball. He was the tournament manager for several county and district softball tournaments, and was the president of the City Slow Pitch League for six years.

Barnes helped organize the Norwalk Umpire Association. He also officiated basketball and was a softball and baseball umpire. He was named the Huron County Softball Commissioner, and was the 5th District Umpire in Chief with 300 umpires under his direction from 1974 to 1979.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Phyllis A. Barnes; children and their spouses, Steven and Katie Barnes of Norwalk, Nancy and Mike Lindenberger of Norwalk, Linda and Kyle Jameson of Bonita Springs, Fla., Robert Barnes of Norwalk, and Julie and David Lindenberger of Norwalk; and 10 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great great grandchild.

Memorial services were held Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 North Michigan Avenue, Floor 17, Chicago, Illinois 60601-7633. Online condolences may be made by going to www.edwalkerfuneralhome.com.

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