|You are invited to a celebration in honor of Claud Barnes on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Friday, June 15, 2012, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Chambers at City Center, 8534 Main Street Woodstock. (Old Baptist Sanctuary. Info: 770.924.0406.)
We are sharing this information because Claud is one of the retired gentlemen who hang out at Dean's Store in the morning and we would like everyone to join us in celebrating his 100th birthday.
That innocuous and rather humble invitation appeared on Main Street Woodstock’s Facebook page several weeks ago; the invitation itself so typical of “The Greatest Generation,” that group of Americans born in a time where they grew up and faced The Great Depression, fought World War II, and established themselves as hardworking, thrifty, conscientious citizens who sought what they could contribute to society, rather than what they could take.
On June 15, most of Woodstock’s finest citizens came together to honor Claud Barnes as he celebrated his 100th birthday. Claud represents all the history and devotion to community that makes Woodstock such a wonderful place to live. Born on his parents’ farm, located on Arnold Mill Road, Claud was the youngest of three sons born to Claud and Emma Rusk Barnes. When his father, Claud Sr., died in 1920, Mrs. Barnes moved her family to town in the house at the corner of Main Street and Barnesdale Terrace, until very recently known to most residents as the home of Brenda’s House of Flowers.
Claud attended the old Woodstock school, which was destroyed by fire in 1939. He is quick to point out that the Woodstock school was the only one he ever attended, until he corrects himself and tells you “but I had to ride the train to Canton to go to high school.” Laughing, he admits he and the other boys liked riding the train so much, they frequently ditched school and just rode the rails.
Claud married Ruth Merritt and they had one son, who died in infancy. Like most young men his age, Claud’s early adulthood was interrupted by World War II and he served his country with pride. Claud was a member of the landing force at Normandy on June 6, 1944 and was later stationed in Berlin. Like most World War II veterans, he doesn’t talk much about what he saw, and we can only imagine the images seared in his mind from the D-Day landing are too horrific to recall, let alone discuss. However, once discharged, Claud never left Woodstock again. His beloved Ruth passed away almost 30 years ago, but Claud just kept moving forward. An active member at Woodstock United Methodist Church, he was always contributing to the church in one way or another. He was a fixture at Dean’s Store until just a couple of years ago, hanging out with his buddies and swapping stories and giving a bit of living history to any resident lucky enough to wander into the Visitor’s Center.
In 2002, Barnes was named Woodstock Citizen of the Year. As the room filled at The Chambers at City Center on June 15, some of the elite of Woodstock came to pay homage to Mr. Barnes. Among the attendees were other Citizens of the Year, including Juanita Hughes (1997) and Millicent Barnes Fox (Barnes’ niece – 2006). Pierce Neese, formerly of Bank of Woodstock, was there to honor Claud - according to Fox, Neese actually came up with the idea for the party. It appeared that Hughes, working in conjunction with Billy Payne of the City of Woodstock, made the party a reality, but it was sure hard to tell, because no one in that generation wants to accept credit for anything. They would have you believe this party just materialized out of good wishes and happiness for their friend, Claud Barnes. There were so many, and almost all of the attendees had themselves contributed to the growth and success of Woodstock over the years, but more importantly to the quality of life its citizens enjoy.
Much of Claud’s family was there. He has two nieces who are residents of Woodstock, Millicent Barnes Fox and Cathie Barnes Price. Their children and their grandchildren were all there. It was a beautiful portrait of a family united by love and by devotion to their community. Claud’s great nephews, ranging from 12-years-old down to toddlers, looked amazed at the size of the birthday cake and the assortment of cupcakes and old-time bottled sodas that had to be opened with a bottle opener, but they were certainly enjoying the festivities and being with family and most of all with “Uncle Phoney,” as they call him.
A question was posed to Claud by this reporter: “What is the best thing that happened to Woodstock in your lifetime?” He answered without hesitation, “When Georgia Power came out here and put in electricity so that we could have refrigerators and lights – that did more to improve our quality of life than anything else.” His excitement at remembering the wonder of electricity was palpable.
After Claud answered that question, I was joking around with some of the other guys from the Dean’s Store morning crowd, and I mentioned to them that I had prepared a list of important events that had taken place on June 15 and that one of those was Benjamin Franklin’s experiment with flying a kite during a thunderstorm in 1752 – the experiment that showed the relationship between lightning and electricity. When I told them all that I had asked Claud if he remembered that (as if he had been there in 1752), I got the heartiest laugh of the day. Those men and women, the ones who quietly helped build and make Woodstock what it is today, love nothing more than a good laugh at the expense of themselves. They just don’t take themselves seriously. What they do take seriously is their commitment to God, family and this community. Thank goodness their legacy lives on in the service and devotion of their families, and in those of us whose lives have been enriched by knowing them.