Betty Barnes and Merill sculpted a life together

September 26, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Reba Katherine "Betty" Barnes, who died Sept. 16 at the age of 81. Her obituary appeared in the Sept. 18 edition of The Herald-Mail.

More than 63 years ago, Merill Barnes vowed to love his wife in sickness and in health, and he meant it.

Reba Katherine "Betty" Barnes died Sept. 16 at the age of 81 at Homewood Retirement Center in Williamsport, where she had received care for Alzheimer's disease during the past year.

"It started about 10 years ago," Merill said. "Betty would forget little things. She would get so mad when that happened."


As the disease progressed, Merill found himself taking more and more care of Betty's needs in the cottage they shared at Homewood. A year ago, when Merill no longer could handle her, she was moved into the nursing home at Homewood.

"I'd go over every day from 4:30 p.m. until about 6," Merill said. "Some days, she would know me and other days, she wouldn't. It's so strange now not to visit her anymore."

Now 84, Merill loves to tell people that if he hadn't been "held back" two years by an elementary school teacher in Cumberland, Md., he probably never would have met Betty, who became his wife in July 1941.

"The first time we actually met was when I was at a Boy Scout camp in West Virginia and Betty was spending her summers near there at her grandfather's house," Merill said. "She was just 16, very beautiful and had a great figure - she'd wave at me."

Later, as students at Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Betty and Merill became a couple. Their dates often consisted of Betty standing near Merill as he performed his duties as an usher at the old Garden Theater in Cumberland.

"Then, I would buy her a nickel ice cream cone and walk her home," Merill said. "The walk home to my house was three miles, but I didn't mind."

On their wedding day, Betty put in a full day at the Federal Bake Shop in Cumberland.

"She got off at 5 p.m. and we were married at 9 p.m.," Merill said.

With $12 between them, the couple spent $3 for the preacher, $2 for a gold ring, $2 for a cabin above Hancock and 35 cents for two breakfasts the next morning, Merill said.

While Merill was overseas with Patton's Third Army, he sent Betty all of his money except just enough for pipe tobacco. When he returned after the war, the couple resumed their life together.

Betty worked with Merill as he began his career as a jeweler.

"She learned to do the books and was eventually working with 4,000 accounts and five employees," he said. She was also raising their two children, Tim and Judy.

The couple opened a jewelry trade shop, doing all the repairs, diamond settings and engravings for 20 jewelry stores.

"We mortgaged everything we owned to open Barnes Custom Jewelers," Merill said.

With the store duties and her two children, Betty found the time to become a gourmet cook, often hosting dinner parties for 50 to 60 people.

"She taught herself to play the organ, became an excellent golfer and painted," Merill said.

In her quiet moments, Betty often posed for her husband, who has sculpted many busts of her, many of which are displayed in their Homewood cottage.

"I'm currently working on my final image of Betty and one of me that I will display together," Merill said.

Together ... as they were in life for 63 years.

The Herald-Mail Articles