Senior in Action – John Barnes

Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.

Senior in Action – John Barnes

John Barnes - senior in actionJewel Tolliver-Robinson nominated her friend, John Barnes, to be featured as a Senior in Action. Jewel said, “I met John Barnes in the 1980s when he was Senior Supervisor of Student Affairs in the Office of the Registrar at UCLA. I was hired in the Scheduling Department of the same building. John loved learning and prided himself on continuing his personal education over the years. He later took courses in hotel & property management at Pasadena City College while managing the Pasadena Goodwill Store.”

John Barnes shared his recollection of meeting Jewel: “Jewel was working across the hall at UCLA. She came in with her daughter on “Bring Your Sons/Daughters to Work Day” and I liked what I saw. Jewel was tall, elegant and had character. I asked her out to lunch and we talked. She was married, so we just became friends. We’ve remained the best of friends.”
Jewel continued, “John is aging successfully at 69 and is an inspiration to me. My friend had his share of life-altering events, including a stroke on May 2, 2015. These days he walks over 2 miles a day and can be found lounging at the local donut shop sipping coffee with his friends. I am glad to be counted among them.”

After Barnes’ stroke, his doctor said, “I hate that this happened to you, but you’re going to need to exercise, exercise, exercise.” Barnes admits that stroke rehabilitation is an endless commitment. He begins each day with a healthy breakfast, takes a breathing treatment, then walks with friends for 2-3 hours.

John Barnes was born in Chicago, but moved to Detroit, Michigan at age 2. He was the 5th of thirteen sons. With a chuckle, Barnes remarked, “Mom quit trying to have a girl after son #13 was born!” He recalled evenings with buddies on the neighborhood street corners harmonizing to radio Motown tunes featuring the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. Barnes enjoyed basketball and dreamed of being recruited to the NBA. “My dad and I couldn’t get along when I was growing up. I ended up moving in with my aunt’s family in Ann Arbor during high school. I became a school newspaper reporter, joined clubs, participated in the Michigan Spelling Bee championship (and won!) I had talent as a center forward on the basketball court, and won a basketball scholarship to Eastern Michigan University. But life took a turn and went a different way after my first year in college, so I didn’t reach my dream of the NBA.”

Barnes was not drafted to fight in the Vietnam War because of childhood asthma and flat feet. He mused, “As years go by, I wish I HAD been in the military so I could take advantage of VA (Veteran’s Administration) medical benefits.” Instead, Barnes invested in a security & bodyguard company with business partner Cecil Fraizer at Fraizer Enterprises. One of their first contracts in the City of Detroit was patrolling The Avenue of the Stars, a long stretch of high fashion stores where they protected shoppers, especially vulnerable senior citizens.

In the late 1970s, Barnes vacationed in California with two things in mind. First, he wanted to enjoy some time off, but secondly he craved new ventures. He said, “When the plane landed, something about Los Angeles grabbed me. Detroit was in decline because the Big 3 auto makers were having difficulty competing with Japanese manufacturers. I wanted Frazier to expand our security business into Hollywood, but not being a risk-taker, he said no. I sold my half of the business to my partner and never went back.”

The California lifestyle agreed with Barnes, and he worked his way up at UCLA from clerk-typist to Senior Supervisor. Although John Barnes never married, he is proud to be Darrick’s godfather in a family which “adopted” Barnes forty years ago and share holiday celebrations with him.

As Albert Schweitzer said, ““In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Thank you, John and Jewel for sharing your friendship story.



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