Midland’s Nancy Barker paves a path for women

Nancy BarkerI’ve been amazed by this self-described “small town girl” for years. In many ways, Nancy Barker (nee LePard) has been a pioneer.

From Fowlerville, MI, Nancy graduated from the U of M in the late 1950s and taught on the U. Hospital’s Polio Rehab Ward. Her group was among the first to receive the Salk vaccine sugar cubes which wiped out polio.

Nancy and I became friends through the International Fashion Group. (I was a fashion editor.) Nancy had moved to Midland with then husband Dan Cline, a former Michigan football player and family doc. She volunteered with the hospital and art association and start-up college Northwood Institute (now University. Today the school has almost 2000 students.)

Nancy says, “I never would have thrived in Midland had not wonderful older women welcomed me so warmly.”

Some years later, Nancy and Dan divorced. As a mom of 4, Nancy needed a job. “At that point, the only accepted jobs for women were teaching, nursing or being a secretary.” But the founders of Northwood, Arthur Turner and R. Gary Stauffer, educators from Alma, MI, had bigger ideas. They aimed to expand women’s horizons and tapped Nancy to lead the charge. She started and developed a Careers for Women program at Northwood. (I was one of many Detroit career women she invited to speak to her classes.)

“I loved watching more and more girls become managers or entrepreneurs. The women’s movement would have happened without me,” Nancy says, laughing. “But it was fun to be part of.”

After 3 years in academia, Nancy was invited to dinner by a young lawyer with Dow Chemical. Bill Barker had degrees from Penn State, U. of M.Law and the Harvard B. School. Still, Nancy turned him down. Several times. “I was embarrassed to be divorced. Despite our small city, I didn’t know him and felt uncomfortable.”

NANCY AND BILL BARKER 2014One day, Nancy was having tea with Marjorie, a lady friend in her 80s. She mentioned the man who’d been calling. “Marjorie stood up and toddled over to the phone. She said, ‘Jimmy, this is Marjorie.’ (Jimmy was her lawyer, a leading attorney and the son of Marjorie’s friend.) Marjorie asked about Nancy’s potential suitor, got her answer and returned to the table.

“She said, ‘Jimmy says go. He’s a nice boy.’”

The next time, Nancy accepted. The night Bill arrived to pick up his date, he spotted 4 little faces checking him out from behind a curtain.

Turned out Bill was raising 5 children on his own. Nancy found him “a walking encyclopedia, family oriented, world traveler and 100% comfortable companion.” She was hooked. And undaunted by the prospect of a combined family of 9.

The expanded household worked. “Bill is a wonderful father. His ‘original’ kids were glad to eat my cooking—especially since Bill’s rotating weekly menu was a tad boring. Our kids melded well. The one way to really annoy them was to ask are you Bill’s or Nancy’s?”

Since those early days, the household has also welcomed over 25 live-in college students, including several tennis playing foreign students. (Midland was recently named Tennis City USA. Northwood has a nationally ranked tennis team.) One “darling” young boarder: the granddaughter of the king of Morocco.

Nancy fought for women around the world on the International Council of Women (headquartered at the UN and in Paris). She worked with leaders from as far as Nigeria, the Far East and Africa. “In many countries, the low status of women is a tragedy.”

Nancy keeps up with friends and extended family. Her last holiday letter took 2 single spaced pages. Still a tireless Midland booster, she and a friend will reprise a recent program on how the city has changed. “Midland still has more PhDs (per capita) than most any city, but it’s no longer ‘dry.’ Today I can legally sip my Maker’s Mark at the Midland Country Club.”

The secret to raising nine blended children? A house with 6 bedrooms. And “a big sense of humor.”

The most rewarding moment of Nancy’s career? Being named vice president of Northwood. “Lots of men and women reported to me. They all had talents I didn’t. I think my best asset is recognizing other peoples’ talents and supporting them.”

Any more secrets to her success? “I was energetic. And persistent. My dad once said, ‘You are obstinate, Nancy.’ I’d rather think of it as pleasantly persistent.”

Advice to young women? “Stay open to opportunity. Speak up wIth your ideas. There’ll be moments of discouragement. We all face them. I can still hear mother say, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

Now at what Nancy calls “the age of wisdom,” she and Bill have faced some health issues. Nancy’s recovering from surgery for a broken hip. Bill, some problems with balance they’re looking into. I know they’ll get past these issues as they’ve overcome so many other challenges.

I raise a Maker’s Mark to you, Nancy. You’ve made your mark in Midland. And around the world. Thanks for the inspiration.

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6 thoughts on “Midland’s Nancy Barker paves a path for women

  1. Brenda Rosenberg

    I am one of the truly lucky people. Over 40 years of friendship with Nancy and Bill. Some of my most memorial times were not in Dubai or Antartica but in the warmth of their living room meeting their friends who like Nancy and Bill, were smart, loving,kind and wanted to make the world a better place. They have truly enriched my life in so many ways. Thank you Suzy for sharing their story with your readers.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Couldn’t agree more. The Barkers are remarkable. So, for that matter, are you. Thanks for the insightful comment.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Rodney. Didn’t realize you were also a star in Midland.

  2. Pat Fowler

    Suzy,
    Love this story. Nancy’s story is inspirational. Thank you for publishing it.

    Pat
    (I didn’t know Fowlerville existed)

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Fowler/Fowlerville? Something in the water that nurtures good people? Thanks for the sweet comment, Pat.

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