Local Shawnee man shares life story
December 7, 2011
Speaking of plans to get dental work and withdrawing social security money to surrounding students, 61-year-old OBU alumnusJames Barker takes a break from his day in the downstairs Geiger Center for some coffee and relaxation. Barker lives in a house in Shawnee that is “a good place to live,” but does not drive or have a job. Barker was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of nine, and later diagnosed with diabetes in 2009.
When Barker was three, he got up on the front of his father’s car and fell on the ground. Barker’s grandfather later ran over Barker’s body with his truck because he didn’t see him. “Papa always blamed himself for my epilepsy, but it was just an accident. He didn’t see me,” said Barker. The epilepsy makes it hard for Barker to maintain a job, but the biggest challenge in keeping a job is his memory loss.
Barker said that a few years ago he just started working at a 7-Eleven in Edmond when he said to his employers, “You guys are going to hate me, but I don’t remember anything from the training I was given last week.” Regardless of his disability, Barker remains optimistic in life. “The many things you worry about in life, don’t worry: pray about it and trust God will work things out.”
Barker was awarded a scholarship and attended OBU from 1968 to 1973. In 1972 he received a degree in business administration, and followed up with a second degree in hospital administration in 1973. “I couldn’t have picked a better college to go to than OBU,” said Barker.
In his days at OBU, Barker said he recalls having a buffalo mascot named Balthazar. A group called CHIPS took care of the mascot. Barker said that he and all of the other students felt sorry for the bison because lightning struck down the only tree in his pin, leaving him “depressed.”
Barker was also an active member of the Bison Glee Club for four years under the direction of Warren M. Angel. Barker attributes his success at the University to Angel, who helped him considerably throughout his time at OBU.
After graduation in 1974, Barker became the 726th and youngest nursing home administrator in Oklahoma. Barker worked at the Four Seasons nursing home in Midwest City for two years. “They just wanted me to break even [in funds], but I told them no. We are going to make a profit.” Barker said he was able to start bringing in close to $2000 per month thanks to the employees under him.
Following his employment at his first nursing home, Barker joined the army, typing up medical profiles as a part of the infantry. The army would not send him to war during the Vietnam War due to his health, but they promised him the option to join and go overseas after the war.
New tissue grew around his brain, allowing him to not have any “grandma” seizers (the worst) for a long time. However, epilepsy still proved to be difficult in basic training and in Korea.
“One guy told me he didn’t think I was going to make it through training because of my seizures, but I told him that he better believe I would.” Barker completed his training and stayed overseas for two years.
Following his time spent in the army, Barker chose to move to Seattle where he attended a Licensed Practical Nurse Community College in North Seattle from 1978 to 1979. This is where he met his wife Monnie. While in school, Barker worked as administrator of another nursing home in Seattle.
In working as a nursing home administrator, Barker met a variety of interesting people through private duty visits. Some of these people include Dr. Donald O’Donoghue, orthopedic surgeon for Jim Plunket and consultant for Joe Namath and Sylvan Goldman, the inventor of the shopping cart.
“People don’t really know that stores used to deliver items straight to cars before there were shopping carts,” said Barker.
Barker has lived in many different areas, including Wash., Idaho, Neb., Okla., Calif. and Texas. Barker had a son with his wife and named him James. Barker said he and his wife had a lot of fun together. When Barker asked his wife to marry him, an ambulance drove by soon after.
According to Barker, Monnie said, “Well, I guess they’re here to put the fire out.” Monnie’s relationship with her parents often got in the way of Barker and Monnie’s. Barker said Monnie’s parents were Mormon and were very controlling of their daughter.
In the end, Barker filed for divorce because of difficulties such as where they would move in location.
Monnie died in 1994 due to lung cancer, something her parents didn’t tell him until three years later. Barker thinks he could have helped her stop smoking if she would have stayed with him and moved to Okla.
As his health deteriorated more, Barker lived with his father for nine years until his father passed away. “I could talk about anything with my dad. I wouldn’t trade my time with dad for anything,” Barker said with tears in his eyes. He said his father had a way of building him up to thinking he could do anything he wanted to.
Barker’s son, James, contacted his father in 2007, and he keeps in touch with him to this day from time to time. Barker can be found singing in the praise team at Wesley United Methodist Church, and he loves playing piano.
Barker said he hopes to continue to do music as much as possible and hopes to stay in contact with his son.
Other considerations include taking a class, figuring out a job and traveling. Barker said he isn’t worried about what the future holds, and that he is enjoying life.