YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsYmca

Civic leader Jack Barr dies

February 06, 1997


Staff Writer

Prominent Hagerstown businessman and community leader Jack Ellsworth Barr died Wednesday morning when his pickup truck hit an icy patch of U.S. 522 in Fulton County, Pa., struck a tree stump and traveled into a creek.

Barr, 70, was taken to Fulton County Medical Center following the 8:15 a.m. accident. He was pronounced dead at 9:12 a.m., according to Pennsylvania State Police.

Julie Strasburg, one of Barr's eight children, said her father was on his way to help another daughter fix a furnace at Burnt Cabins, near McConnellsburg, Pa.


Barr, of 20921 Fish Hatchery Road, Hagerstown, was a high school dropout who became a prominent business owner. He left high school his junior year to enlist in the Navy, where he was trained in electronics.

After the Navy, he went to work for Miller-Liskey Electric Co., and eventually bought the company. Over the years, Barr acquired a number of electrical businesses. In 1988, he opened the popular Family Recreation Park on U.S. 40.

Barr belonged to dozens of service organizations and helped found others.

He was known for the elaborate Christmas displays that were lighted annually on his family farm off Interstate 70 near the Frederick County, Md., line.

"My parents always believed that what they had was never really theirs. That was exemplified in their lives," Strasburg said. "He always believed if you had something, you had to share it."

"The community has little or no idea what he has contributed to it," said Home Federal Savings Bank loan officer Franklin Erck, who served with Barr on the YMCA and the San Mar Children's Home boards.

Erck said Barr realized that writing a check was no substitute for personal involvement.

"The community has suffered a great loss whether it knows it or not," he said. "He was an example to everyone to get involved and volunteer and really get your hands dirty doing it."

Friends and family members said Barr opened his heart and his home to anyone in need. Strasburg said her parents took in more than a dozen children who needed a place to stay.

For the last two years, a teenage girl has been living with them as part of a foster grandparents program, she said.

David Swacina, administrator of Cedar Ridge Children's Home and School, which Barr helped found, said he first saw how sincere Barr was about helping people in need in 1981. That year, Swacina said, he stayed with Barr while he was interviewing for the position at the home.

Robert F. Zeigler, who along with Barr was a member of the Hagerstown Exchange Club, said Barr got him involved in a number of community organizations. Tallying Barr's volunteer efforts - from church work to youth groups to organizations that serve the needy - he said his efforts read like a "who's who list" of philanthropic activity.

"He will be missed because there's nothing he wouldn't do for anyone," Zeigler said. "When you start going through all of the organizations, there's hardly an organization that does charitable work that he wasn't involved in."

Zeigler said Barr was just as generous with his professional expertise. During a bicentennial celebration in 1976, Barr donated the electrical work that transformed the South Hagerstown High School field into a gigantic stage.

Zeigler said Barr also did all of the wiring for the Exchange Club's Monte Carlo nights at the Venice Inn.

Strasburg said the most important organization to Barr was his church, Christ Lutheran Church. Also extremely important were Cedar Ridge and the Salvation Army, she said.

Many other groups and individuals benefited from his time as well.

During his years with the YMCA, Barr offered his farm for the organization's Kinder Kamp, YMCA Membership Director Pat Geiman said.

During one-week sessions throughout the summer, children roamed the property, Geiman said.

Geiman said Barr also quietly did other things. One thing many people do not realize, she said, was that for the past 18 years, Barr and his wife, Evelyn, donated wrapped Christmas presents to the 30 or 40 YMCA residents.

"He did it so each of the men living here could have a gift Christmas Day," she said.

Barr was awarded the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce Small Businessperson of the Year Award in 1990 and the Hagerstown Exchange Club's prestigious Golden Deed award in 1987.

Other organizations in which he was active include the United Way, the American Red Cross, Big Brothers, the Boy Scouts and the Union Rescue Mission.

In addition to his wife, Evelyn, he is survived by five daughters and two sons. He was preceded in death by one son.

The Herald-Mail Articles