By DAVE KITCHELL
Pharos-Tribune staff writer
In the last 10 years, the number of students at his school on free-and-reduced lunch support have gone from less than one out of every five to more than one out of every two, yet his ISTEP+ scores are the highest of any elementary in the corporation.
Every morning, he puts his right hand over his heart and gets a lump in his throat when hears a child say the Pledge of Allegiance. And even though he has more than 400 students, he knows every one of them by name.
That thumbnail sketch of Bob Barrett is one that says much about the dedication of a teacher and principal who is leaving Franklin Elementary School after 40 years in the school corporation.
“If it weren’t for the teachers at Franklin, we wouldn’t be successful,” he says, humbling his own career.
“I think kids, if they know the ground rules, they’re going to stay within the lines. A lot of kids today don’t know and aren’t held accountable to those rules.”
There are rules for Barrett, too, and one of them is to learn from people you want to emulate. He credits the late Tipton Principal John Mummert and his Franklin predecessor, Jim Sheely, for being mentors.
“John Mummert was like a father to me because I lost mine when I was a freshman in college. He was somebody you wanted to like because he made you better as a teacher. Jim Sheely — to this day, I’ve never heard anyone enter my office and not refer to him as ‘Mr. Sheely.’ He had that kind of respect. He always asked what was good for kids.”
Barrett learned much from Mummert and at Tipton where he coached athletic teams with blue-collar players who never knew what it meant to have a home game because their gym was too small for parents to watch. Along the way, the school produced athletes such as John Maloy, the leading hitter on Logansport’s first state baseball championship team in 1975, Terry Siddall, a classmate who went on to win a state championship as a high school football coach, and Jeff Flowers who was a two-sport star for Logansport before playing football at Ball State.
His background and love of sports led him to embrace a quote from former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz.
“I quote it often. It’s ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”
Logansport Superintendent Jerry Thacker also has been an influence he says. Thacker has a tendency to make people around him perform at a higher level, he says, but the long-term goal always matters.
“When you’re focused on true north every day, you know that eventually that’s going to make a difference.”
Growing up fast
When his father, a Harrison Township farmer, was diagnosed with brain cancer, Bob found himself suddenly in a position of caring a lot about his education. The last conversation he heard his father have with his mother was simple. If she could get him to Purdue, get him there.
“My mother didn’t drive. That was a tremendous motivation for me to stay in school ... to work hard.”
He was the oldest son in a family of five children, and even though he thought he was a tough kid, he found out he was not.
“That first semester was hard for me,” Bob says. “To this day, I see students who have lost a parent and I know what they’re feeling and experience. It’s always hard.”
Bob and his four siblings all graduated from college, an accomplishment one of his friends says is remarkable considering their patriarch died so early in his children’s lives.
Rex Waymire said the Barrett family he remembers from Lucerne was one that worked hard.
“I think they were well-respected in the community,” he said, adding he respected Bob’s mother.
“She seemed to hold the family together. That’s something to be admired or respected, her being able to keep all the family together and encourage the kids to complete their college education.”
Waymire remembers Bob as a class cut-up who might be blamed for a school prank — even if he didn’t do it. Classmates expected Bob to make them laugh.
Jerry Robinson said Bob definitely had a sense of humor, and they collaborated on some pranks.
“I think a lot of times, Bob and I traded places. We looked a little bit alike when we were in school and we tried to take each other’s place once in a while.”
In fact, the experiences of his youth led classmates to believe his future students would not be able to teach him anything about mischief, they said. He would be wise to anything students tried to pull on a teacher.
Tom Riley, Bob’s former neighbor, says he was a “card” when the Barretts lived across the street from him in Marleton Hills. But what impresses him is his ability to work with tools on his farm.
“He’s got stuff out there most people don’t even have anymore,” Riley says.
“Other than that, he’s just a good guy.”
The Rileys and Barretts often socialized, and Riley says Barrett was a tough but fair family man.
“They were really a good family. They were the first family we met in the neighborhood. Our kids and their kids got together and we spent a lot of time with the kids, and we still do.”
The early years
Those college years weren’t all difficult for Bob, even with the pressure he had at the start. While at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, he and a fraternity brother from Purdue went to a dance at the Memorial Union. There, Bob met Kathy Garriott, four years his junior and a member of the same Broad Ripple High School class that produced comedian David Letterman.
It was a match, and with some convincing, Bob was able to get Kathy, once named the Indiana School Nurse of the Year, to move to Logansport from Indianapolis. Thirty-six years later, he even convinced her to move back to the same farm where he grew up. The Barretts cleared some land 300 yards from the farmhouse where he was raised. Now, they have a place to retire and bring the grandchildren. Bob is farming some of the time, but thinking ahead to grandchildren.
With three daughters of his own, he was outnumbered as a father. Today, the numbers are on his side. Daughters Erin and Erica have three sons and one daughter. Things are evening up.
Being a father of daughters in the school corporation was a plus, he says.
“I think it not only made me a better parent, it made me a better teacher. I could take their pulse. If anything, having children put a stigma on them. It was a preacher’s kid syndrome. I think it’s very true of children of educators, especially in a town the size of Logansport,” he says.
“Many people wonder what I’m going to do when I retire. I like just being outdoors. I like wide open places and spaces.
“I enjoy the sun and a good fatigued feeling at the end of the day, that I got work accomplished.”
“He’s a good man,” childhood friend Robinson says.
“He’s a good farmer. His dad was a farmer. Actually, I think he’s reverted to be more like his dad than anything else.”
“My dad,” Bob says, “said get her done long before Larry the cable guy. He could have written his material.
“You can’t wait for the day to come to you. You’ve got to go to the day.”
Dave Kitchell may be contacted at 722-5000, Ext. 5150, or via e-mail at email@example.com
By DAVE KITCHELL
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