Coffee with…raising the Barr on retirement

Port Alberni Parks and Recreation programmer Deb Barr, who has worked with retirees for three decades, has now retired herself.

Port Alberni Parks and Recreation programmer Deb Barr

Port Alberni Parks and Recreation programmer Deb Barr

A Port Alberni Parks and Recreation employee who has been a fixture with retirees has now become one herself.

Deb Barr is retiring from Port Alberni Parks and Recreation after 35 years as recreation programmer.

“It’s going to be a challenge leaving and moving on to the next phase of my life,” the always polite and soft-spoken Barr said. “This wasn’t just a job — it was my passion.”

Barr has puttered around in her office in the last few weeks, slowly emptying it of items and memories she’s collected over the past three decades.

Karen Freethy, who has worked in a different capacity with Parks and Recreation since 2004, is replacing her.

Barr leaves the office for the last time on Friday, but her time working with seniors will never leave her. “I’ll miss working with seniors and volunteers,” Barr said. “When you enjoy doing what you do it defines who you are.”

Barr was born in Nanaimo and moved to Port Alberni at age six. “I consider myself an Albernian,” she said.

Barr went to Hilton School, Alberni Elementary, Klitsa School and Alberni District Secondary School, where she graduated in 1975.

She originally wanted to be a school teacher but her guidance counsellor suggested that she may be good at recreation.

Barr first worked as a playground leader in 1974 — one of 15 playground leaders in the community at that time, and was originally hired by then co-ordinator Theresa Kingston. Their two careers have remained intertwined until now: Kingston as the city’s human resource manager and Barr as recreation programmer.

Barr eventually became the playground co-ordinator then in 1977 worked as a receptionist at Echo Centre.

In 1979, Barr became the Parks and Recreation senior citizens program leader, and so began her three-decade labour of love with the Sunshine Club. Truth be known though, her reverence for seniors was foreshadowed at an early age.

“I used to visit seniors when I was a little girl and I enjoyed spending time with them, helping them with things,” Barr said.

No real moment stands out in the 30-plus years Barr has worked with seniors. The best part of her job, she says, is just that — working with seniors. But the hardest part is losing them when they pass on.

“I’ve met good people over the years and so many of them are no longer here,” Barr said. “When you work with them for eight hours a day they become part of your life.”

Barr spoke little of what led to her decision to retire from a job she started in her 20s. But she hints at coming full circle in life in a recent Sunshine Club newsletter.

“It’s now time to give someone else the opportunity to have a rewarding and fulfilling career as I have had.”

The lady who helped retirees is now retired herself. Barr says she intends to spend more time with family and friends, exercise more, and get to her house ‘to-do’ list.

She’ll continue to teach exercise classes but wants to give the club and new programmer space and time to grow.

Recreation has been a pleasant occupation because you work with people in their leisure pursuits, Barr said. “You’re helping them do something they like doing,” she said.

“The people are there because they want to be.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com