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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Lifelong Educator Values OBU Foundation

July 16, 2009

Although Robert Barnard's history with Oklahoma Baptist University goes back nearly 60 years, the 1958 graduate has never spent a single night on Bison Hill. However, to this day, his influence permeates the Shawnee community and the University he wholeheartedly supports.

The recipient of a $25 scholarship, the local native enrolled in OBU classes at age 18 in 1950 with a self-professed naivety, no science or foreign language studies, little mathematics education, no understanding of good study habits, and an overall educational deficit "that would haunt me later on," he said. He gave university studies his best effort, never missing class and frequently visiting the library before he returned home for evening farm chores.

However, after five semesters, Barnard's grades reflected his deficits. He joined the United States Army, where he felt he matured and learned self-discipline. Completing his military stint, he reapplied to OBU, attending class year-round.

"I made the President's Honor Roll, which was no great achievement for many people, but for me it was," Barnard said. "I say I redeemed myself."

Barnard graduated with two majors, social studies and business education, influenced by a host of faculty who made an impact on his life. He is quick to describe their skills: Dr. James Ralph Scales made Oklahoma history and government come alive for his students; Dr. Katherine Rader created excitement in drama and action; Lenna Smock attempted to instruct education majors how to behave as a teacher; Donald G. Osborn, an "upbeat" professor and dean of students, took his classes on field trips; Dr. Joseph A. Trent taught biology and helped Barnard realize he didn't want to be a science major.

He also recalled the influence of Opal Craig, who allowed the young Army veteran to learn how to talk in front of people. Jorge Padron, a science professor, impressed Barnard with his presentation as a teacher; Dr. E.W. Thornton brought the past to life in his history lectures; and Manoi Smith Adair taught several business skills, including shorthand.

He followed the leadership of his OBU professors into an education career. He earned a master of education degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1960 and a doctor of education degree from OU in 1974. Beginning his career at Strother in Seminole County, Barnard also served as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent in Shawnee Public Schools.

Through the years, he made the concerted effort to stay connected with his students. Even after retiring from education in 1981, he often sees several former students each day.

"As my education career kept going, we had the opportunity to go to other places to live, but it was a decision to stay put," Barnard said. "That has been the greatest emotional reward for having been a teacher. You get to see the 16-year-olds become mature. You see how they turned out. You can conclude success or failure. This town is loaded with people who I knew as students."

'I love chalk'

Entering the classroom for the second semester at Strother, Barnard found himself teaching seven subjects in six hours, with no planning period. He was told he also would serve as an umpire during baseball games, which he joked was a "classroom hazard" since he had baseball players in his classes. He also discovered his duties at the rural school included directing plays, managing the scoreboard during basketball games and sponsoring classes.

"If you can teach successfully in that environment, you will have accomplished an awful lot," he said.

In the fall of 1960, a job opened in Shawnee High School, which Barnard found was a tremendous change from his previous classroom experience. He taught one subject - world history - for five hours. Teaching the first year without a textbook, he would access his personal library of history books each night to prepare for the next day's lesson.

"When I got to my classroom, all I had were blackboards and chairs," he recalled. "I became an expert at using chalk on the blackboard. I love chalk. I can draw anything. I had to get everyone's attention - and I didn't have anything but me and the chalk to keep sophomores interested."

During the next 14 years in the classroom, he would draw a history of the world for his classes dozens of times. In the meantime, he married his wife, Janet, and completed graduate work. He worked to inspire sophomores about topics such as ancient Egyptian history, during which he secretly earned the moniker "The Pharaoh" from some of his students. He later used the name for a personal business he developed to manage minerals.

"I made them take notes," he said. "I've had people tell me, 'That's when I learned how to go to college,' because you had to relate the information, putting it in a form you could review later."

Barnard enjoyed making his students think, and when they put forth the effort on required term papers, he enjoyed seeing the results. He has saved boxes of his favorite term papers for more than 25 years.

"I made the students think, made them produce, made them seek out answers to questions, made them formulate the answer," he said. "They had to put it into 500 words. That was a task many of them couldn't do very well, but if you don't ask the students to do something hard, they're never going to learn."

Following years of inflicting thinking skills on students, Barnard took his problem-solving abilities into the community. He served in the elected position of Shawnee City Commissioner and also as vice-mayor, where he directed projects that included a new animal shelter, new exposition arena, new public works location, southside community center, special road projects and the creation of oil and gas ordinances.

Barnard also remained active in community service through numerous boards and commissions, including Shawnee's housing authority, planning commission, farmer's market board, hospital authority, economic development board, chamber of commerce and historical society. He has served as an adjunct professor at East Central University and Seminole State College. He helped create and is president of Development Enterprises of Central Oklahoma Inc., a not-for-profit housing corporation which has built 131 units for senior citizens and families.

The lifelong educator has seen his career come full circle - beginning at OBU, remaining in Shawnee, and now returning to Bison Hill. He currently chairs OBU's Shawnee Advisory Board.

"The climax of my career is to help out OBU a little bit," he said. "I had inspiration from the teachers and faculty. The culture and environment of OBU, and its treatment toward me, has given me the incentive as a local citizen to support OBU into the next century."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.