A Thank You to Those Who Give

After we reported on the passing of Hartley Barker last week, several readers posted comments about the impact the late philanthropist had on area organizations and people. The generosity of Ruth and Hartley Barker helped to preserve open space, sponsor performers at the Door Community Auditorium, and build a new theater at Peninsula Players, among other contributions.

I never met Hartley, and have yet to meet Ruth, but I have been fortunate enough to see first-hand the impact of both their philanthropy and their vision.

I grew up in Egg Harbor, when the nearest gym we could get into to play basketball outside the school was the claustrophobic confines of the Sister Bay Baptist Church. There, the sidelines were marked by walls, the backboards made of battered wood, and a full-speed lay-up attempt was an affront to your ankles and knees.

When plans were unveiled for the YMCA program center in Fish Creek, we rejoiced – until we realized that it wasn’t going to include a gymnasium. “What was the point?” I remember my friends and I thinking. Apparently Ruth and Hartley asked the same question. They had already given handsomely to the YMCA project, but they stepped up again to make sure a gymnasium was included. That vision, and that gift, continues to give back to the children and families of this community every single day.

For most of the last 10 years I’ve coached basketball at one level or another at Gibraltar Schools, and I can only begin to describe the impact the Y and that gym have made on the players I’ve coached. It has given them the opportunity to put in hundreds more hours on the court, has given them a place to fall in love with the game, and a place in this community to hang out where the goal is to live healthy. It has given us a place to hold practice when gym space in the school is maxed out.The kids of Northern Door now have a place to work out, to learn karate, to learn to dance. A healthy place to kill time in the hours between school and practice, or before mom gets off work, or before a big game.

When I walk into the gym on Monday nights and see friends shooting around, young guys in awe of the 57-year-old running the floor with them, and a freshman working on his dribbling skills, I forget that it wasn’t long ago that none of this was here. I take it for granted.

That’s part of the gift of the Barkers, who made an impact not just by giving, but by demanding more, demanding better, for the people of this community.

To the Barkers, to Cynthia Stiehl and Judith Blazer, the Petersons, and so many others who have given so much to this community – people I’ve never met who have made such a huge difference to me, my friends, and especially the kids I coach – I owe a debt of gratitude.

We all do.