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Merced College’s Founding President Dies At 94

Dr. Lowell BarkerAugust 25, 2006

Merced College’s founding president, Dr. Lowell Barker, has died following a long illness caused by a stroke. Dr. Barker, 94, passed away on August 21 in Medford, Oregon.

He is remembered by college staff as an intensely dedicated, no-nonsense administrator whose enthusiasm for building a new campus was embraced by the first employees of the fledgling College.

“Dr. Barker ran a tight ship and you knew he was commander of that ship,” said De Merino, Dr. Barker’s administrative assistant. “He was a task master and he had a vision of what Merced College should be. All he asked was that you share that vision and that you work to help him make it a reality.”

Merino, who has held the position of assistant to the president for 40 years and through five presidents, including Merced College’s current president Dr. Benjamin T. Duran, said Dr. Barker balanced professional demands with personal attention.

“Dr. Barker could be very stern and demanding but if he ever felt he hurt your feelings in any way, he would seek you out and explain why he did or said what he did, and usually with a tear in his eye, because he couldn’t bear to think he had hurt one of his ‘children.’ He only wanted us to do what was the right thing or best for the college. First and foremost was what was good for the college and the students.”

Dr. Barker, who guided Merced College since its inception in 1963 to his retirement in 1977, was born in North Ogden, Utah on March 19, 1912. He received an A.A. degree from Weber College in 1932, a B.A. from the University of Utah in 1934, a M.A. from Columbia Teacher's College, New York City, in 1938, and a Doctorate in Education in 1955 from the University of Southern California.

He served in the United States Navy in World War II, including active duty as Lieutenant and anti-submarine officer on a destroyer in the South Pacific. On January 26, 1937, he married Jeanet Manning in Salt Lake City. They were married nearly 58 years until her death in 1995. In December 2002, he married Helen Hixson of Grants Pass, Oregon.

From 1937-42 he taught in grade school, high school and community college in Utah. Before enlisting in the Navy, he taught math, physics and aerodynamics to Air Force and Navy cadets at bases in San Antonio and Austin, Texas. After the war, he taught English, speech, journalism and radio and television broadcasting at Pasadena City College.

From 1951-1956, he was Dean of Lectures and Forums at Pasadena City College and was responsible for organizing and moderating the Tuesday Evening Forum, a weekly event that drew 3000 people to hear world leaders in politics, science and the arts. To make sure that his speakers arrived in time for their lectures, Dr. and Mrs. Barker hosted them at home for an early dinner. This required his children to display excellent manners, but also gave them the opportunity to meet luminaries such as Margaret Mead, John Foster Dulles and Will Durant.

Continuing his dedication to community college education, Dr. Barker became president and superintendent of Antelope Valley College in 1957. He held this post until 1963 when he was appointed president and superintendent of Merced College. He enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to build a new community college from the ground up, starting classes the same year in borrowed quarters at the fairgrounds. He hired faculty, supervised the design and construction of a modern campus, won the support of the community with a championship football team and opportunities for underprivileged students, building Merced College into the thriving institution it is today.

“During the early years,” Merino said, “when our fledgling campus was housed at the fairgrounds until there were the funds needed to start the campus, every summer the fairgrounds staff, with the assistance of our four operations and maintenance staff, would disassemble our college so that the county fair could be held. The staff looked forward to the arrival of the fair and our breaks suddenly included cotton candy and corn dogs. And sometimes our breaks were a little longer than was allowed and occasionally Dr. Barker would walk the carnival just to see what we were to.

“I think it was more to make sure that we took advantage of this special time because none of us ever got in trouble for the longer breaks or lunches. He knew we had all worked so hard to tear everything down and then put it all back together at the end of the fair and this was his way of saying thanks.

“Whether we were tearing it down or putting it up, Dr. Barker was right there next to us stacking chairs, picking up boxes, whatever needed to be done. He was not afraid of a little hard work. I think because of the example he set for us, we would do pretty much anything that needed to be done. No one ever said “this isn’t in my job description.” We joke today about “other duties as assigned.” Well, I think this came from the philosophy Dr. Barker established in the early days. He truly believed it took all of us working together to make the college successful and he would accept nothing less from us.”

Dr. Barker is survived by his wife, Helen Hixson Barker, of Medford, his son and his wife, David Barker and Jeanne Loring of San Diego, his daughter and her husband, Kathleen and Willes Weber of Santa Barbara; five stepchildren, Alice House of Eugene, Oregon, Marie Mathis of Grants Pass, Oregon, Richard Hixson of Portland, Oregon, Dorothy Carson of Longview, Washington, and Carol Hayne of Merlin, Oregon; three grandchildren, Alex Barker and Sonya Barker of Portland, Oregon, and Michael Weber of West Hollywood; two great-grandchildren, Taehani and Nia Barker of Portland; two brothers, Wendell Barker of Springville, Utah, and Owen Barker of Washington, Utah; and by many nieces and nephews, other family and friends.

Besides his parents and Jeanet, he was preceded in death by two brothers, Kenneth and LaVar, and by two sisters, Vanese Mathews and Myra Parsons.

A memorial scholarship fund as been set up at Merced College in honor of Dr. Barker. To make a donation to the fund, call the Merced College Foundation at (209) 381-6470.

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