Barker to receive first LCS alumni honor

Friday, April 5, 2013
(Sentinel photo by Beverly Van Buskirk) Norman Barker, Le Mars, stands beside the plaque at Le Mars Community High School. The building was constructed during his tenure on the LCS board of education. Barker has been honored with the LCS Distinguished Alumni from the LCSD Alumni Association and the LCSD Foundation. (Right) -- Norman Barker's senior picture and 1939 yearbook, The Bark.

The first recipient of the Le Mars Community School District (LCSD) Distinguished Alumni Award will be a 1939 graduate of Le Mars High School.

Norman Barker, 92, of Le Mars, will be honored at the Le Mars Community Education Foundation banquet Tuesday.

The new Distinguished Alumni Award is a joint award from the LCSD Alumni Association and LCSD Foundation Board.

The award was established to recognize graduates for outstanding achievements and contributions to society following graduation, according to the nomination form.

That includes graduates of Le Mars High School and Merrill High School.

Barker was nominated for the award by Janice Renken and Deb and John Ahlers.

They wrote, "Norman is one of the most genuine gentlemen you could ever hope to meet. He has done many things over his lifetime.

"Norman never had to leave Plymouth County to find fortune and fame, he found his niche right here at home, finding various ways to make a difference in many lives through his contributions as farmer, committee member and volunteer."

Barker said when he thinks of the hundreds of alumni, some of who went on to be scientists, physicians, and diplomats, "I don't feel like I'm in that class."

Barker said for him, "it may be a matter of being in the right place at the right time."

Barker grew up on a farm west of Craig, attended country school and then Le Mars High School.

He served in the U.S. Army in World War II as a clerk typist in the signal corps in Japan.

He earned college credits during military service, and attended Westmar College for one year and Iowa State University (ISU).

At ISU, he wrote a paper on soil conservation, inspiring his lifelong interest in saving soil.

He used and promoted early soil conservation practices on his farm.

Barker spent most of his life on the Century family farm before moving to Le Mars in 1987.

Farming did not keep him from involvement in many organizations.

He has served on the church board at St. John's Lutheran Church in Craig as well as teaching Sunday School and singing in the church choir. He continues as a member at the church.

In the late 1950s, Barker said he was encouraged by his neighbors at a meeting in the Craig City Hall, to serve on the County School Board of Education, because there was little rural representation on the board.

Following his election, he and the board members immediately got involved in trying to draw a plan for the future of Plymouth County schools.

That meant bringing the country schools together with towns in the county.

"It was called reorganization," Barker said.

After the Le Mars-Merrill reorganization plan was approved by a vote of the residents, Barker was again approached and asked to run for the new Le Mars Community School Board in 1958.

He was one of three rural board members, and was elected the first president.

Barker recalled the superintendent, E.D. Archaumbault, suggested a rural resident might be a good choice for president of the board.

He served on the board until 1968.

During that time, a new high school was built in Le Mars.

Barker served as the first president of the Plymouth County ISU Extension Council.

As part of that position, Barker worked with farmers in the county to raise money to purchase land for an experimental farm in northwest Iowa.

"We asked for $10 a share and said if not enough money was raised, it would be returned," Barker said. "We got enough money to buy land near Sutherland."

While he was engaged in farming he was a Plymouth County Soil Conservation District Commissioner for six years and more as an assistant commissioner.

Other groups he was either on the board or a member of are: State 4-H Foundation, 50-plus years with the Plymouth County Farm Bureau, Farmer's Home Administration Board, Le Mars Rotary, Pork Producer member and past president and 4-H leader.

"I enjoyed my years in 4-H, and especially as county woodworking leader," Barker said.

Barker was recognized by Wallaces' Farmer Magazine as a Master Farmer in 1966.

He was awarded the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce Service to Agriculture Award in 1987 and the Farm Bureau Service to Agriculture Award in 1989.

As a Le Mars Rotary member, Barker was involved in the development of O'Toole Park in Le Mars.

There he used the tractor to dig holes to plant trees.

"I guess I was in the right place at the right time," he said of his work at the park.

He volunteered for several years with Pioneer Village Christmas which is held at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds.

During the early years of the celebration, Barker collected used artificial Christmas trees for the project.

He has also dedicated countless volunteer hours with the Plymouth County Historical Museum.

The museum is housed in the former Central High School building, where Barker attended high school.

"Yes, I spend a lot of time at the museum," Barker said. "The work is fun. I have good memories of the different rooms there, where I had class. I also like the ability to restore, maintain and keep the building as a place to show our heritage. It continues to be a work in progress."

Ruth, his wife and life partner, has been by his side for 62 years this year. The two of them have received many joint awards, including the Iowa State Service Key Award and they were inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame in 2009.

He and Ruth have four children, Carolyn, Joann, Jim and Jean, all graduates of Le Mars Community School.

Of their 11 grandchildren, six have or will graduate from LCHS, and they have two great-grandchildren.

Barker also counts himself as blessed, as he is a two-time cancer survivor.

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