Dave Barnes used to send me jokes about the Packers… funny, good-natured stuff that only a close friend who happens to be a Vikings fan would dare send to a green and gold fanatic like myself. Unlike much of the Vikings vs. Packers fan rivalry, which is pretty intense, Dave always found a way to lighten it up and make it fun. The fact that he shared it with me made me smile and, of course, respond in kind. I guess that should not be surprising. Everybody who knew Dave Barnes knows that there was not a malicious bone in his body.
Dave and his wife Michelle came to Kenosha 28 years ago and they melded into the community. One day out of the blue Michelle showed up at the CYC and stated her and her husband’s desire to volunteer and help out with the mission of the Club. Since that date they have volunteered, donated, gotten to know the kids, and worked quietly and unassumingly behind the scenes to make Kenosha a better place for children from all walks of life. When Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha and CYC merged in 2001, Dave was a board member, a position he retained for 17 years right up until his death. While Dave served on the board, Michelle spent many days volunteering in the afterschool programs and working with children who came to know her as that nice lady, Miss Michelle.
In 2006 Dave and Michelle were presented with the Club’s highest honor – the Mary Frost Ashley Patron Saint Award. They accepted the award with humility, typical of what their growing circle of friends had come to love about them. There have been dozens of recipients of this award through the years. I am confident that they would all agree that Dave and Michelle reflected Mary’s kindness and love of the children we serve.
Dave’s tenure on the board reached an apex in 2008 when he was elected President. The Club had just started the aggressive Capital Funds Campaign which sought to raise $13.8 million and build a new community center. Dave was one of a few board members asked to sit on the steering committee for that campaign. Largely because of the inspiration provided by that small but active group of board members the Club has raised $10 million of the goal so far, despite the fact that the economy tanked shortly after the campaign was begun.
During Dave’s tenure as President, our board had many discussions about the size and scale of the project and whether it would be possible to have a successful campaign in such a difficult economy. Dave’s steady hand and calming influence kept the board focused on the job at hand. When there was hesitation, Dave encouraged the board to think about the number of children we would be able to reach with the new facility. His vision, steadfastness, and leadership helped to keep the project on course. The new building opened in June of 2011 and, as a result, the Club’s membership has nearly doubled from 5,000 to 8,000 members.
Right up until the time of his death Dave encouraged us to stay on task to finish the campaign. Dave’s legacy will continue to grow in the smiles of the growing number of children that we serve. As we go forward to meet these significant challenges in the weeks and months ahead, we will miss Dave’s strong but patient leadership. We will miss his unique ability to raise up the people around him and make them see their potential. We will miss his infectious optimism. Mostly, we will miss our friend who was always there. Reassuring, kind, passionate.
Dave was just 52 when he was stolen from all of us on June 1, 2013. We will never understand why he left us so soon. We will always feel a sense of loss over the departure of Dave Barnes from our community and our organization. But we will go forward, confident in the mission that Dave believed in so passionately. He truly was a “patron saint” to Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha. The work that he did here will never be forgotten. Whenever a child’s tears are turned into a smile here, I will know that he is still working on our behalf.
The world is a better place having had Dave Barnes with us for 52 years. Rest in peace, my friend.