[Photograph from Don DeCrona
Nicknamed "Teenie" because he was born premature. Leroy Barker started the first few months of his life being incubated on the back of an old wooden cook stove using his daddy's hankies for diapers. He was born in Anderson, South Carolina to Arthur & Mary Barker on the edge of town on December 22, 1920. He was one of 14 children (9 boys & 5 girls) born to the couple. Arthur was a loom fixer at the cotton mill and Mary was a homemaker.
When Leroy turned 14, he set out to get a job to help the family, so he changed his birth date to December 19, 1919 and began working in the cotton mills for 5¢ per hr., 12 hrs. per day as a battery filler. He helped by giving his parents part of his wages, as the Depression had settled upon the United States and times were hard for families everywhere. He saved up $5 and convinced his brother that he would like to take over the payments of his 1929 Model A Ford complete with a ragtop & rumble seat. Leroy knew he could make the payment. Well, the month rolled around faster than Leroy had expected and his brother came looking for the $5. Needless to say, Leroy did not have the funds and the car was repossessed.
After working in the mills for two years, Leroy decided to change professions and the sixteen year old started working in a restaurant selling hamburgers and hot dogs at a nickel a piece. Here Leroy made $1 per week and all he could eat.
Deciding that he would join the U.S. Navy in January 1941, Leroy served his country proudly upon the battleship, U.S.S. New York. In his living room, is a letter from President Harry Truman thanking him for his service. In 2009, he was sent a letter asking him to join with others in the commissioning of the new U.S.S. New York. He was unable to attend, but proudly still has pictures adorning his walls.
In 1944, Leroy was stationed in the small town of Hawthorne, Nevada where he worked as a Mineman 1st Class. This young sailor is one of only a handful of sailors that can state that he served in both the Atlantic & Pacific while serving. He escorted ships around Greenland in the Atlantic and had been stationed in Hawaii. Leroy stayed on at the ammunition depot until he was discharged. He then headed back to South Carolina with his family. South Carolina wasn't all it was cut out to be after the great paying jobs in Nevada. While he was back there, Louie Dellamonica contacted him via short wave radio 8 states away and offered him a position. He returned to Hawthorne where he worked Civil Service for 27 years. At the base, he assembled mines and depth charges from 1947-1962. He spent those years supplying ships worldwide with ammunition. He retired in the early 1970's at only 52 1/2 years of age. He was a planner/estimator when he left. During his employment, his fellow coworkers and today, these residents still speak highly of this quiet yet fair man.
On November 11, 1944, Veterans Day, while stationed in Hawthorne, Leroy married the lady of his dreams. Juanita Faye Stone who was from East Texas and was working at the depot delivering electric mules. This 18 year-old caught Leroy's eye and for 53 years, she was Leroy's sweetheart. In 1997 he lost Juanita to cancer. The couple had two children, Roger and Linda. Today, only Linda remains along with two grandchildren and one great grandchild. A fond memory of Juanita was when the young couple purchased a 1940 Buick in South Carolina. This car had 4 slick tires and the spare "was not much better." Leroy loaded his family possessions in the car from South Carolina and headed to Texas to pick up his bride's items. Worrying the whole way to Nevada about the bad tires, the couple arrived safely. Three weeks later with Mickey Moss & family and Warren Johnson & family, the couples headed to Lee Vining for a picnic. They started up the road, a tire blew. Leroy got out, unloaded the spare and found out it didn't even fit his car! He had to catch a ride to Lee Vining to get it fixed. Once he returned home, he bought four new tires.
Looking back, Leroy remembers that there were at least 1000 sailors and a few hundred Marines in Hawthorne, not counting at least 10,000 civilians. Every other building would have been a bar. He remembers that the Elks Club had the Desert Bar and the EI Capitan had a basement, which included a dance hall where couples would mingle together.
To blow off some steam, Leroy played baseball as a catcher. He played many games where he caught under the pitcher, Clair Turley. He played on the Bonanza Airlines Minor League team as well as the EI Capitan's team along with Bill Beard, Scotty Hines, Max Chilcott, Dean Owens and Don Gruwell. A lover of sports, Leroy also played basketball and after he retired, took up golfing. He has been a major supporter of Mineral County Serpent sports and in the 1990's was a huge supporter of the games. He has signed baseballs and basketballs showing the students' thanks. Leroy is also an avid hunter. His favorite areas were the Reece River areas and around Elko. He liked to hunt for deer, elk and sage hen. When not hunting, Leroy was a trap shooter. He shot 78 straight shots out of 100, missing #79.
Because Leroy was born and raised during some trying times, he learned hard work yet did not get a full school education. He completed the 4th grade before going to work. He believes in the philosophy of "if something had to be done - just do it." When he was discharged from the Navy, the young man decided that the best thing to do for himself and his family was to finish up his education. He went back to school for 2 hours a night at the Mineral County High School and in 1951, passed his GED.
A lifetime smoker for 72 years, Leroy finally kicked the habit after he went into the hospital for 3 days and now after 2 years -- he hasn't had a cigarette.
Dedicated to the betterment of not only himself, but the community, Leroy served on the Hawthorne Credit Union board for 21 years. "I remember when we paid only 7% interest on savings accounts. Today, they are paying at .15%." Leroy adds with a giggle, "Pretty soon we will have to be paying them!" When he began helping with the credit union, he states that there was only 3 ladies that worked alongside the manager. He is also involved in social organizations within Mineral County, such as: a lifetime member of the Elks Lodge #1704, 65 year Lifetime member of the American Legion and lifetime member of the VFW He also served on the Mineral County Park & Recreation Commission.
This 90 year-old veteran still flies his American flag and is patriotic to the core. His gentle and caring manner had his papergirl nominate him for the "Faces of Mineral County" and after talking with him; I am glad that I was able to share in his stories. A true patriot, he has knowledge to share with the younger generations. He knows the value of a dollar and the hard work it takes to obtain that dollar. If it weren't for people like him and the sacrifices they have made for our country, where would we be today?
Faces of Mineral County by: Heidi Bunch, Mineral County Independent News Staff
[Thanks to Don DeCrona for this article]
Derick S. Hartshorn -