Archived Story

Dear John/Florence Barrett

Published 4:16pm Thursday, July 5, 2012

Will you interview Florence Barrett?

—   Jane Wilson

Glad to. As a fellow introvert, she’s the Barrett I know least, despite living around the corner from her since 1987.

Fortunately, she leaves her comfort zone, like for “pulpit supply” — pinch-hit preaching. She studied lay speaking to “broaden my faith.”

Florence Barrett

She’s a journalist, too, writing a newsy letter since 2006 to 11 shut-ins on Derek the dog, how the altar looked Sunday, sermon excerpts, concerts downtown, Keeler dinners and garden club plantings. Florence began writing for Mark Thompson and continues for Pastor Heather McDougall.

She first filled Ted Bennink’s pulpit at Pokagon.

“God pushed me,” she said. “Silver Creek (United Methodist Church) is such a close family, I’m nervous, but comfortable. At First (UMC), when Paul (Doherty) was there, that was like 250 people, but if you say yes before you think about it, you’re alright.”

Florence, 87, and Bob, whose 55-year marriage began with a 1948 blind date, moved to Dowagiac after five years in Decatur in 1957, the year Kim came along.

Florence’s father lost his parents in a typhoid epidemic, grew up in an orphanage and moved his family frequently.

She lived out by Lake LaGrange in first grade, when M-62 was gravel, attended her freshman year of high school here in 1938-39, but graduated in the Chicago area and lived in New Jersey.

Bob’s job with Michigan Power brought them. “He was a gas serviceman and loved talking to people.”

Diane, the longtime District Court administrator before joining Southwestern Michigan College, is in Austria, where Bill Skoog, formerly of SMC, took his choral group. Robin is a church secretary in Wyoming, Mich.

Kim lives with Florence. Jim, who went in the Navy, lives in Lawton. Kelly, the youngest, almost lost her life in a 1982 auto accident, but she’s married and lives in South Bend. Florence has seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She stayed home 15 years until Bob talked of taking a night job at a gas station.

“You’re not going to leave me home with all these kids.” A Sears employee for eight years as a young woman, Florence became a bookkeeper.

“Bob and I came from the same type of family. I was from a family of four — three girls and a boy,” of which her younger sister, Bess, lives in Waco.

“When we lived in Decatur,” she said, “our family doctor said we wouldn’t like Dowagiac because it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a little town or a city. My freshman year there was a distinct difference between town kids and country kids. We didn’t have buses. My dad paid a senior who could drive his father’s Model A 75 cents a week for me and my sister in seventh grade. I guess you’d call my dad a sharecropper. When I look back on my life, I’ve been able to accept things as they happened. I don’t mind being alone. My sister in Texas is the opposite. She’s like my mother. I’m like my dad.”

“I don’t think there’s anything I’d change. Bob, who died in 2005, and I made a good couple. He was a good dad and husband. We’ve had tragedies, but that’s when God carried us. We had a strong family because we both came from strong families.”

Everyone ate supper at 5:30, no phone interruptions tolerated.

They hosted Christmas open houses for as many as 100 people for 18 years until they wintered in Florida for 15 years.

“I think Dowagiac is a lovely city,” she said. “The way downtown looks is good.”

Otsego Jazz Ensemble is her favorite summer concert.

She looks forward to the 1940s Boogie Woogie Babies Aug. 2.

“I’ve had a good, long, life,” she said, “but I can’t figure out why anyone would want to interview me.”

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