Dr. Lowell F. Barker, 94, of Medford, OR, founding president of Merced Community College in Merced, CA, died peacefully on August 21 at the Rogue Valley Manor in Medford, OR, after a long illness caused by a stroke.
Dr. Barker was born in North Ogden, UT, on March 19, 1912, to Frederick and Della Hickenlooper Barker. He graduated from North Ogden High School in 1930, where he was student body president and star football, basketball and track athlete. He received an AA degree from Weber College in 1932, a BA from the University of Utah in 1934, an MA from Columbia Teacher’s College, New York City, in 1938, and a Doctorate in Education in 1955 from the University of
Southern California. He served in the United States Navy in World War II, including active duty as lieutenant and anti-submarine officer on a destroyer in the South Pacific. On January 26, 1937, he married Jeanet Manning in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were married nearly 58 years until her death in January, 1995. In December, 2002, he married Helen Hixson of Grants Pass, OR.
At a time when the affliction was not even recognized, Lowell overcame dyslexia, and his empathy for others with learning disabilities led him to devote his professional life to teaching and community college education. From 1937–42 he taught in grade school, high school and community college in Utah. Before enlisting in the Navy, he taught math, physics and aerodynamics to Air Force and Navy cadets at bases in San Antonio and Austin, TX. After the war, he taught English, speech, journalism and radio and television broadcasting at Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA. From 1951 through 1956, he was Dean of Lectures and Forums at Pasadena City College, and was responsible for organizing and moderating the Tuesday Evening Forum, a weekly event that drew 3000 people to hear world leaders in politics, science and the arts. To make sure that his speakers arrived in time for their lectures, Dr. and Mrs. Barker hosted them at home for an early dinner. This required his children to display excellent manners, but also gave them the opportunity to meet luminaries such as Margaret Mead, John Foster Dulles and Will Durant. Continuing his dedication to community college education, Dr. Barker became President and Superintendent of Antelope Valley College, in Lancaster, CA, in 1957. He held this post until 1963 when he was appointed President and Superintendent of Merced College in Merced, CA. He enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to build a new community college from the ground up, starting classes the same year in borrowed quarters at the county fairgrounds. He hired the faculty, supervised the design and construction of a modern campus, won the support of the community with a championship football team and opportunities for underprivileged students, and built Merced College into the thriving, 10,000-student institution it is today.
Friends and family will remember Lowell equally for his warm heart and for his ability to take charge of any situation. While his father attended to matters of the Mormon Church, Lowell from the age of 13 ran the family farm, directing the work crews and getting the produce to market. His skill at growing (and enthusiasm for eating) fruits and vegetables continued throughout his life, and seeds from his yard-long beans are still planted in his son’s and in Helen’s gardens. He was a cheerful but intense competitor in many sports, from family basketball games to lawn bowling. After retiring from Merced College in 1977, he developed a passion for golf, reduced his handicap below 10, “shot his age” for the first of many times at 79, and played better than bogey golf into his 90’s. Although competitive, Lowell was empathetic and compassionate, and could burst into tears at the thought of a painful memory, a tragedy, or a blessing affecting his family and friends. He served his community as a member of Rotary International in Pasadena, Lancaster, Merced and Medford, OR. In Medford, where he and Jeanet moved in 1987, he served as Resident Liaison of the Board of Directors of Rogue Valley Manor, where he and Jeanet organized the highly successful Dinner Dances for ballroom dancing enthusiasts. In retirement, photography and travel became important pursuits, with visits to more than 30 countries. His breadth of experience and unmitigated enthusiasm for life made him a joyful participant in the lives of his family and his friends.
Lowell is survived by his wife, Helen Hixson Barker, of Medford; his son and his wife, David Barker and Jeanne Loring of San Diego, CA; his daughter and her husband, Kathleen and Willes Weber of Santa Barbara, CA; his five stepchildren, Alice House of Eugene, OR, Marie Mathis, Grants Pass, OR, Richard Hixson, Portland, OR, Dorothy Carson, Longview, WA, and Carol Hayne, Merlin, OR; three grandchildren, Alex Barker and Sonya Barker of Portland, OR, and Michael Weber of West Hollywood, CA; two great-grandchildren, Taehani and Nia Barker of Portland, OR; two brothers, Wendell Barker of Springville, UT, and Owen Barker of Washington, UT; and by many nieces and nephews, other family and friends. Besides his parents and Jeanet, he was preceded in death by two brothers, Kenneth and LaVar, and by two sisters, Vanese Mathews and Myra Parsons.
A memorial gathering will be held at Rogue Valley Manor, Medford, OR, on Saturday, August 26, at 5 pm, in the Sunset Room.
The family would like to thank the staff of the Rogue Valley Manor Health Center for their unfailing care for Lowell and support for Helen. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to the Rogue Valley Manor Foundation, Employees Scholarship Fund (1200 Mira Mar, Medford, OR 97504).