Interview With Jeanne Kehrer Barnes
Growing up in Sistersville, Jeanne Barnes had an idyllic childhood, surrounded by loving parents and both sets of grandparents. She rode her bike with friends on the abandoned trolley line to Middlebourne, hiked to Big Rock, and fished with her dad at the Bens Run Dam. Close to her home, she attended Sistersville Elementary School, Sistersville Junior High School, and Sistersville High School. On a fast track, she turned 18 on August 24, 1969, was married on September 13, moved to Columbus and started college on September 22. Both she and her husband, Mike Barnes, attended Ohio State University where Jeanne earned a Bachelor of Science in Comprehensive Science Education, while Mike garnered a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, they returned to New Martinsville where Mike began working with Dr. Harold Spencer and Jeanne returned to her alma mater, Sistersville High School, to teach chemistry and physics. In 1977 Mike opened his own practice, the Riverside Animal Clinic. Daughter Carrie was born that same year and Jeanne gave up her teaching job to work part-time managing the business end of the clinic. In 1979 she returned to teaching while continuing to manage the clinic’s business affairs.
As a kid did you get into trouble? No. Don’t know about the worst thing I did, but the most stupid thing I did was jump out of a haymow.
What was the best memory of your childhood? So many, I don’t think I can pick just one. The day my mom came home from Pittsburgh after an extended stay, when my sister Kay was in the hospital stands out. Waking up on Christmas morning and finding the Pollyanna doll Santa left; going out to my grandparents farm and riding the old retired pair of work horses; helping my grandmother make cinnamon rolls; catfishing and practicing for math field day with my dad.
How would you describe a perfect day when you were young? Riding bikes, hiking, hanging out at the public pool, and other adventures throughout Sistersville with the group (both male and female) when we were in junior high.
What was the worst memory of your childhood? The day Dr. Donaldson in Pittsburgh told me it was time to have back surgery for scoliosis. I knew it meant that I would be in a body cast unable to walk or even sit up for over an entire year. As difficult as that year was, it doesn’t compare to these last ten months without Mike.
How did you handle all that time in bed? TV wasn’t much since we only got one channel. I read a lot, did school work. My teachers came after school and in the evenings. I played cards and cribbage with my dad. Kathy Boone was a great friend and came to visit often.
Did you enjoy school? Very much so except I wasn’t too crazy about history class. I particularly enjoyed the math classes and any science classes that required doing calculations.
Was there a teacher who had a particularly strong influence on you? My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Sample. Because I was afraid of him (no idea why), I told my mother if I were assigned to his room, she would have to go to school and get it changed. When I found out that many of my friends, including one boy in particular, were going to be in his room, I decided to stay. It turned out I had a really great year and learned a lot.
What kind of student were you? Well, let’s just say I graduated first in my class. Grandkids Ben and Evie have a lot to live up to as Mike graduated second in his class behind Susan Fraker and daughter Carrie graduated second in her class.
When and why did you decide to become a teacher? I actually started out thinking I would major in medical technology, but at the end of my first year I realized that the foreign language requirement was too much for me. At the beginning of my second year, I was talking with an older vet student’s wife who had a combination math/science education major and I decided that was for me. Because that major was no longer available, I had to choose between science and math. I chose science simply because I had more hours toward that degree.
You served on many state textbook and curriculum committees. In the beginning, I think I was chosen because I was one of the few female teachers in West Virginia certified to teach physics. Later in my career, I served the state as a Master Science Teacher and, along with others, made continuing education presentations to other teachers and helped develop different science curricula.
What was your most memorable moment in the classroom? The most memorable moment of my teaching career had to be the last senior class day held at Sistersville High School. At the end of the program, a slideshow set to music was presented on a large screen. It ended with slides of the empty gymnasium, football field, and classrooms set to Madonna’s song, “This Used to Be My Playground”.
On a lighter note, one year the administration decided to crack down on senior skip day. Just before my physics class, I was called to the office. I returned to my room to find my physics students holding a “senior skip day picnic” on the roof outside one of my classroom windows.
Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself as a first-year teacher? Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
How did you and Mike meet? I met Mike in my own living room on a Friday night in the fall of 1967. He was visiting my older sister who just happened to own a Triumph Spitfire. It took him almost a year to ask me out on a date.
How did you know he was “the one”? I guess I would say we just meshed. From our first date, we just wanted to spend as much time together as we could.
How did he propose? Our plan was for me to attend WVU after graduation and be there while he finished his last year in Morgantown, but he was accepted to Ohio State’s Veterinary School a year early. I still have the letter he wrote saying, “I just found out I got accepted into vet school for next year; go to your guidance counselor and get an application to O.S.U. as soon as you can!”
Do you have a favorite story about Mike you’d like to share? Daughter Carrie started ballet lessons when she was five. From that year on, attending The Nutcracker Ballet became a yearly event for Mike and me. At first, it was to watch it with Carrie and later it was to watch Carrie perform in it.
One year Mike and his brother, Terry, spent an afternoon doing some last minute Christmas shopping and might have imbibed a few adult beverages. When Mike returned home, he decided to demonstrate how to do the “Russian Dance” complete with knee bending elements and split jumps. It was a gut laugh for all; even future son-in-law Mooch.
In addition to being one of the most talented and generous people I’ve ever known, Mike was the most modest person I’ve ever met. During his senior year, he was the quarterback on the football team. I asked him what it was like. He said, “I just handed the ball off to Tommy Haught.” I found out later that he rushed for over 500 yards that year.
I probably knew him for 20 years before somebody leaked to me that he had run the 100 yard and 220 yard dash at the state track meet. Magnolia won the regional that year. Mike finished second in the 100 and third in the 220. That year he was also an all-state baseball selection.
What’s a difference between being a parent and grandparent? You can let your grandkids do what you would never have let your own kids do, like sitting at the coffee table in the living room, eating Mickey Mouse pancakes while watching cartoons on TV. My motto: At mommy’s house, we follow mommy’s rules, but at Nene’s house we get to follow Nene’s rules.
You are an avid walker. What is the longest distance you’ve walked in one day? At the age of 55, I completed my first marathon with Carol Burnside, 26.2 miles.
Gardening is another of your passions. Any special tips you can share? I take Witschey’s brown paper bags, cut them open, dispose of the bottoms and put them down between rows with some straw on top to hold them down. It really cuts down on the weeds and, as the bags decompose, you can till it all into the ground at the end of the season.
When you had your back surgery, you had a preview of social distancing that trained you to adapt. How has the pandemic affected your daily schedule? I’ve really missed going to Prodigy Wellness Center, happy hour at Baristas and walking to Quinet’s Court Restaurant for breakfast. But most of all, I’ve missed the hugs I get from my grandkids, Ben and Evie. I never realized how much one can miss the touch of another human being.
Thank goodness I’ve been able to do a lot of walking with Linda Hill. Transplanting seedlings at the Hannibal Garden Center, working in my garden and, just recently, adopting a kitten have helped also.
Can you tell us where the picture was taken?
The picture was taken on The Big Island of Hawaii during a fantastic trip with Carrie, Mooch, Ben and Evie in 2018. After Mike retired, we started talking about taking the trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and I said, “Why wait”? Thank goodness we didn’t.