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Door County Philanthropist Hartley Barker Dies

Hartley Barker, who with his wife Ruth formed one of Door County’s most prominent philanthropist teams, has died at age 87.

The Barkers were instrumental supporters of the effort to build the Northern Door YMCA and the new theatre at Peninsula Players and have also contributed to Ministry Door County Hospital and the Door County Land Trust, among other organizations. In their hometown of Wisconsin Rapids the Barkers supported numerous community efforts, and in Scottsdale, AZ, where they spend their winters, the Boys and Girls Club is named after them.

“I know they’ve been very generous to many organizations,” said YMCA Executive Director Dan Powell, “but probably no organization has been as fortunate for the generosity of Ruth and Hartley as the Door County YMCA. We are forever indebted to them.”

Alan Kopischke, development director of Peninsula Players, called Barker a “passionate supporter of the Players who was really involved in making sure accessibility issues for disabled patrons were dealt with in the new theater.”

“We’re saddened, and we really feel for Ruth and the whole family. Losing Hartley is a big blow for the entire community.”

The Barkers contributed $1 million to start the endowment fund for the YMCA in the year 2000, which Powell said is “extremely important to our ability to survive in this small community with two program centers.” But their generosity didn’t stop with the endowment fund. The original plan for the Northern Door Y didn’t include a gymnasium until the Barkers stepped forward with a substantial contribution to make sure a gym was included in the center.

“Children and families were extremely important to Hartley,” Powell said. “He was almost like a grandfather figure to me, making sure I understood the importance of the endowment fund to make sure funds would be there for generations to come.”

A World War II veteran, Hartley was a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. He has served on the boards of the Door County YMCA and the Ephraim Historical Society.

The Barkers talked about the roots of their generosity in a 2005 release issued by Peninsula Players.

“We’ve been very fortunate economically and we feel it’s important to give,” the Barkers said. “Our parents gave to various charities and were also involved with their communities.”

“You can’t take it with you, so you should do something with it,” concluded Ruth.

“They’ve touched so many different parts of the Door County community and beyond,” said Brian Kelsey, managing director of Peninsula Players. “He will be missed.”

Hartley is survived by Ruth, his wife of 60 years, four daughters, 15 grandchildren, and an immeasurable legacy of helping children in Door County, Wisconsin Rapids, and Scottsdale, AZ.