Faces of Philanthropy: Don Barnes embodies the spirit of philanthropy
Nov 12, 2014
By Jeff Pickering
Ask Don Barnes about his life, and he will tell stories filled with the details and wonder of a 10-year-old boy's dream. A hardscrabble, Depression-era childhood. Four years of service in World War II as a sonarman in the Navy's Pacific fleet chasing submarines, sweeping mines and braving typhoons to deliver the mail. A roughneck in Kern County's oil fields. A farmer. A successful businessman. A Kevin Harvick racing fan. The bosun of the Seven Oaks Greens Golf and Yacht Club.
"Thanks to four years in the Navy, I'm the only one who owns or knows how to blow a bosun's pipe," Don laughed. Ask Don Barnes about his generosity and his charitable giving, however, and he will readily demure.
"I don't care for (being) anonymous, but...," he mused.
"But, he really doesn't like blowing his own horn," exclaimed his wife, Earlene. "So we're going to do it for him."
Don Barnes came to know the Kern Community Foundation with help from his financial advisor, David Nicholas.
"My first wife, Audrey, inherited the proceeds from the sale of her family's auto dealership, and we kept the land it was sitting on in Santa Barbara," Don recalled. The cash and the future development and lease of the real estate provided the couple with significant financial benefit.
"We were children of the Depression," Don said. "We paid off everything, determined what we needed to live on and then decided to give the other half away."
Audrey passed away in May 2007 after 50 years of marriage to Don. Her husband continued to use the fund to make grants to causes that were important to them, such as Bakersfield Christian High School and the Bakersfield Museum of Art.
"The Lord put me in this position. He's given me the wherewithal to live a little longer, and I think I can give something back," Don said.
Don's practice of living life to the fullest and giving back to others is why he was named this year's recipient of Kern Community Foundation's Spirit of Philanthropy Award.
On Nov. 19, in conjunction with National Philanthropy Day and the 100th anniversary of community foundations in America, Don will be recognized with this award for his lifetime of giving to benefit the charitable causes most important to him. The award also honors Don as a member of Kern Community Foundation's Legacy Society.
Today, Don is mostly interested in giving to local charitable causes that he knows well. Together, Don and Earlene, a friend from church whom he married in 2011, make regular grants from the Donald and Earlene Barnes Charitable Fund to organizations where they can witness a specific impact.
Asked how he felt about all this recognition, and Don took a moment to reflect.
"A man recently told me that he'd seen my name on the wall around town, at various charities, and that he was, I quote, 'really pleased to know someone like me,'" Don said, wiping away tears.
"That makes me feel like I have done something good."
Indeed, Don Barnes, and his giving spirit are worthy of our community's salute.
-- Jeff Pickering is president and CEO of Kern Community Foundation and of its subsidiary Kern Real Estate Foundation. To learn more about the foundation, visit kernfoundation.org or call 616-2617.
This story originally appeared in Bakersfield Life Magazine.