Barr selected as ‘Folk Hero’
MANISTIQUE – If you ask Jim Barr, years of volunteering and dedication to his hometown have not made him a hero. Members of the Folkfest Committee, however, have a different opinion, and have named Barr the 2012 Folk Hero.
“Jim is a quiet person who works on so many fronts in the community,” said Paul Walker, member of the Folkfest Committee. “Jim has given the Manistique community, through the decades, the gift of time and community pride. He has proven, when you work your hardest and give your best, you can affect positive changes in the community around you.”
Those who have worked with Barr agree.
“Jim Barr has been a driving force behind the Gulliver Historical Society and the Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse over the past 24 years,” said Marilyn Fischer, president of the Gulliver Historical Society. “He has worked as a volunteer tour guide, board of directors, and worked on special projects with visiting school children, scouts, filming videos, and doing teaching and restoration work. He contains a wealth of first-hand historical knowledge and is very deserving of this award.”
Barr, a lifetime resident of Manistique, was born in the waterfront city in 1934. After graduating from St. Francis de Sales Catholic School, and, subsequently, Manistique Middle/High School, Barr traveled to Chicago to attend an electric/ mechanic school.
“I only left a few times,” Barr said during a recent interview. “I was in the National Guard and I also went away to Chicago … to learn to repair automotive and heavy equipment trucks.”
After returning from Chicago, Barr worked for the Chartier Garage and Service Station for 13 years. He then accepted a position at Port Inland, and worked there for 27 years. On top of his regular job, Barr also worked half a shift at the Manistique Area Schools bus garage, where he worked on busses and trained other employees.
Between his schooling and employment, Barr married the former Shirley Blanchard, with whom he had four sons. After Shirley’s passing in 2001, Barr married Marie Grover-Barr in 2004.
Despite his busy lifestyle, Barr made time for numerous commitments outside the home. Over the years, these included: serving as Manistique Township Supervisor for over 30 years, where he was instrumental in renovating Pickle Pond Park on River Road; member, and eventual chairperson of the CBC committee; president of the Manistique Area Athletic Booster Club for 13 years; member of the Manistique Brownfield Authority Board; member of the construction committee for Habitat for Humanity; member of the Gulliver Historical Society Board; volunteer Seul Choix Pointe Lighthouse tour guide for over 20 years; and a member of the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.
Another of Barr’s achievements occurred when he was picked to carry the 2008 Olympic torch. After passing all the requirements to carry the torch for a distance north of Milwaukee, Barr was informed his position with Manistique Township disqualified him.
“Just being picked was such a thrill to me,” he said. “Just being picked to carry the torch.”
Barr’s most distinguished accomplishment, however, is within the Boy Scout program – where he has served area boys for over 40 years.
“I am a recipient of the highest award in scouting for an adult … the Silver Beaver Award,” he said. “That’s the highest award an adult can get in the United States, unless you start doing international traveling.”
Barr began his commitment to the Boy Scouts with his own twoyear stint in the program as a child.
“Because of World War II, the program shut down because all of our leaders were being taken away to the war at the time,” he said. “We never got a chance to go all the way through the program, but I knew at that time that it was a program that I wanted to be involved with.”
Although he has not maintained records, Barr estimates between 40 or 50 boys have earned the Eagle Scout designation under his watch.
“What you’re doing in the Boy Scout program is making tomorrow’s leaders – in whatever they do,” he said. “They might become a leader in the church or the Lions Club or the CBC. That’s what you’re trying to do, is instill in them that the only a way a community of our size works is by its volunteers.”
The Boy Scout program is not only vital to the community, explained Barr, it also has a significant effect on the boys participating. The numerous activities in which they take part, including volunteering, summer camp, and, even winter camp, aid the boys in fully developing.
“There’s nothing like winter camping,” Barr said with a laugh. “That’s an art and a thrill, and once you start winter camping, you don’t want to stop. It’s unbelievable what it does to your system.”
Even other skills, like survival, usually turn out to be an exciting experience for the boys, Barr explained.
“To see an 11-year-old boy dig a hole in the ground … and make a peach or cherry cobbler, and it turns out just like it’s picture perfect,” he said. “Just to see their eyes pop, when they see that happening – it’s unbelievable.”
In detailing his years with the Boy Scouts, Barr frequently mentions others, including women, involved in the program.
“I have a very, very good support force,” he said.
Another program near and dear to his heart is the CBC.
“CBC is an excellent program for Schoolcraft County,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege, over the years, of going up to Bay Cliff Health Camp with the Boy Scouts and the Knights of Columbus. We went up there and re-roofed a couple buildings up there and got a chance to see the action of the counselors up there and the students up there that are going through the camp. What a tremendous, unbelievable job they do up there.
It’s a camp that I hope never, ever ceases, because of handicapped children,” he added.
When asked if his years of service to the Boy Scouts, or numerous hours volunteering or serving elsewhere in the community has made him a hero, Barr is quick to respond.
“I’m not a hero,” he said. “I do my volunteering because I love Manistique. I was born and raised here, went to school here, worked with mega people from our community over the years … I’m not a hero, I’m just a leader in a Boy Scout program or a CBC program.”
In fact, Barr has an entirely different idea of what really makes a hero.
“When I think of a hero, I think of all the young people, growing up and having children, and keeping those children safe,” he said. “There are so many things that are different, in this day in age, with kids growing up. This generation has to be a hero to their kids.”
The Boy Scout program, explained Barr, is one way parents can be a hero to their children.
“The boys that I get into the program – I want to keep their minds busy,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Keep your mind as busy as you can and keep your body as tired as you can, so that you don’t even think of getting into all the bad stuff that’s out there.’ That’s my goal, that’s really where I come from with this program.”
With nine children, 16 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren between he and his wife, Barr understands more than anyone that the community and parents must work together to raise children safely.
“It takes parents, it takes volunteer leaders, high school leaders, to step up, and everybody has to help, to be in there and be watching out for these children,” he said
Though he would like to be as involved as he has been over the years, Barr explained that he hit a roadblock a few years ago.
“I’ve slowed down a little bit,” he said. “I had cancer in 2009, and that really took the starch out of me, and I slowed down considerably after that. As of right now, I’m cancer free, which is only by the grace of God. Things are good. I’m glad that things have worked out.”
After his struggle with cancer, Barr decided to pare down his commitments. He started to focus more on his hobbies, including working on his home, wintering in Florida, and walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline – the staple of the place he loves.
“It is a beautiful place to be,” he said.
As for those looking to make a community commitment, Barr does have one piece of advice.
“Especially for married couples – you have to have a very understanding spouse. If you are going to be involved in Boy Scouting, for instance,” he said. “There’s a lot of weekends throughout the year that you give up for other people’s children. Then you give up a whole week of your summertime. You have to come from a family who understands what you’re doing or are very in tune to what you are doing or get involved in it.”
Barr will be presented with the Folk Hero award during Saturday’s Folkfest opening ceremony at 10 a.m.