Barthena Barnes valued family, knitting for nearly a century

Thursday, September 12, 2013 | 9:45 p.m. CDT; updated 6:32 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 13, 2013

COLUMBIA — This past spring, the last time Margaret Paul, 91, saw her big sister Barthena Barnes, the 99-year-old was doing one of the things she loved best.

"She was knitting mittens the last time I saw her, trying to make some mittens for her great-grandchild," Paul said. "I couldn't believe she could use her hands still as good as she could. She said, 'Well it hurts but I'm gonna finish these.'"

Such a feat from a 99-year-old might seem unbelievable to some, but that sort of determination was nothing new for Barthena Barnes of Columbia, who died Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.

She was born Jan. 1, 1914, in the Deer Park area south of Columbia to Emerson "Emmett" and Annie Hubbard Allen, one of 14 children. Her father ran the Zero House, a grocery store in Columbia where she worked as a girl.

She was a hard worker, but also enjoyed pulling pranks on her siblings. Paul recalls waking up one morning to find a brain sandwich on her pillow, courtesy of her sister and a younger brother.

Mrs. Barnes went on to attend MU, where she studied education. After graduating, she became an elementary school teacher, working at the Barnes and Carlisle schools in rural Boone County.

Mrs. Barnes' daughter Elaine Davidson recalls her mother telling her about having to ride an hour to work on a horse, sometimes through snowstorms.

At the Barnes school, Mrs. Barnes caught the eye of school board member Dysart Conner Barnes, who hired her. The two married Aug. 4, 1939, and built a house on his family's farm nearby. They spent the next 58 years together.

Mrs. Barnes' daughter Marjorie Marberry remembers how busy her mother was raising three children in an age without many modern conveniences. She cooked, cleaned and canned food. She worked outside in her garden, an activity she really enjoyed.

"She loved gardening and flowers," Davidson said. "Growing vegetables, planting bulbs so that something would come up every year and help bring in the spring."

Her favorite things to do, though, involved her creative side. Handiwork of all kinds was a lifelong love.

"She made all our clothes," Marberry said. "I hadn't had a store-bought anything for years. She taught us all how to sew and do things."

In addition to a busy household life, Mrs. Barnes was actively involved in the community. She was a member of Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church. She served as the president of local PTA groups and on the board of the Daniel Boone Regional Library. She participated in the Deer Park 4-H club.

She put her love of knitting to work by teaching a class at the Sears in downtown Columbia after her daughters grew up.

As she got older, approaching ages that slow most people down, Mrs. Barnes' interests didn't diminish. If anything, they increased.

First and foremost were her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She had eight of the former and 20 of the latter at the time she died.

She adored spending whatever time she could with them and was uncommonly good at keeping track of what each one was up to.

In her 60s, she became an avid doll collector, a pursuit inspired by the painful memory of a lost Christmas present. As a girl she received a china doll as a gift and placed it on a rocking chair, only for the chair to rock and the doll to fall and shatter on the ground.

She worked crossword puzzles and read books incessantly. She began following NASCAR after Columbia native Carl Edwards came on the scene. She couldn't get enough of college sports, especially NCAA football and basketball. 

A particularly painful moment for her was when Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference — not her favorite conference, to say the least.

"When we left the Big 12, my mom was really upset," Marberry said.

By all accounts, she remained mentally sharp throughout her 99 years, even as her physical health deteriorated.

"Her mind was as good or better as anyone else's up until the day she died," Marberry said.

Her daughters credit good genes — all of her siblings save two survived into their 80s and 90s — in part for her longevity, but think that there's more to it than just that.

"She was just so smart to figure out how to deal with the stuff that keeps happening as you get older," Davidson said. "She just worked with it. She didn't like being confined and not able to do what she used to do but she was a real fighter."

Mrs. Barnes had hoped to make it to 100. None of her siblings had lived that long, and she wanted to be the first to do so. For a long time she thought she would be.

Marberry is sad her mother didn't reach her goal, but grateful for the time she was given.

"She lived a long, long life," Marberry said. "It's hard to do the grieving for her. It's grieving for the fact that she's not around anymore."

Mrs. Barnes is survived by three daughters: Kathryn Scheidt and her husband, Robert, of South Bend, Ind., Elaine Davidson and her husband, Norman, of Lake Charles, La. and Marjorie Marberry and her husband, Jim, of Columbia. She is also survived by one sister: Margaret Paul of Dover, Del., eight grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

Her husband, eight brothers, five sisters and one great-grandson died earlier.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Barnes Cemetery Association (c/o Sam Owen, 10151 E. Johnson Cemetery Road, Ashland, Mo. 65010) or to Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in her name.

Online condolences may be left for the family at

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