By Dedra Cordle
After delivering hundreds of food baskets to senior citizens throughout the region, Joseph Barnes Sr. and his wife, Elberta prefer their early morning hours on Thanksgiving Day to be nice and quiet.
It is their time, he said, to decompress from travelling all those miles the previous days and to prepare for the noise that more 50 guests will bring to their house to celebrate the holiday.
It is hard to get them to deviate from their relaxing routine, he admitted, but he ultimately decided it was time to change things up this year.
“And I am deeply uncomfortable with this,” Barnes said with a laugh.
What had Barnes, who is a resident of the village of Urbancrest, so full of discomfort was the fact that he was being recognized with the Lifetime Impact Award at the eighth annual Thanksgiving Wattle 5K Run/Walk.
Since the second year of the race, the event committee has honored residents of the southwest community who have made ‘a significant impact on the lives of others.’
“This award is our way of giving back to those who have spent their lives giving to others,” said event director Mark Sigrist.
The recipient is chosen, he explained, largely based on the recommendation of prior winners. Those include advocates for the homeless, counselors, missionaries and other community activists.
“All of these people are well respected in the community, so when they tell you someone is doing all of these great things you listen to them,” Sigrist said.
When seeking suggestions for this year’s recognition, a number of them recommended Barnes.
“While he may be known to many in the village for being their mayor, he is known outside of the area for making an impact on the youth in the community,” said Sigrist. “I believe most of them call him ‘Coach.’”
For a majority of his adult life, Barnes has been coaching young men through impromptu pick-up games and summer leagues. He has even had roles in a more official capacity in Hamilton Township and at the South-Western City Schools District.
Though he has coached track and field, his sport of choice is basketball.
Barnes said he loves coaching the sport as it can help lead young men to, and keep them on, the right track.
“I started coaching primarily to give them something to do,” he said. “When I meet a lot of these young people, they are at a crossroad in their life and I try to get them to see there is a different way to approach things through coaching and the sport itself.”
He said he always encourages them to do their best, to make an effort, and to never give up on themselves.
One of his former players was Joey Clark, whom Barnes coached while he was a student at Brookpark Middle School in the mid 1990s.
Clark met Barnes at a difficult time in his life. He was just a few years removed from a life-threatening illness and was making the transition from private school to public school.
He said he was intimidated when he met Barnes during tryouts.
“I think most of the team was too,” Clark said, referring to Barnes’ stature and demeanor.
Quickly, he said, that sense of intimidation grew to one of respect and even love.
“There are not many people who can get you out of bed at 4 a.m. on a school day to practice but he was the exception,” said Clark. “Coach Barnes wanted us to try our best and to be our best.”
As Clark moved on in his education, he said he kept in contact with Barnes. He said when they met, he would always remind him to keep up with his studies, to find something he loved, and to give back to others.
Clark, who is now a deputy sheriff with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, said he is not the only life who has been impacted by Barnes.
“He’s still coaching so I know he’s still changing lives and offering needed encouragement.”
Sigrist said like many of his fellow recipients, Barnes did not wish to be publicly acknowledged for his contributions to the community.
“I had to beg him numerous times to be here,” he said.
But he added it was important that others know the work he is doing ‘behind the scenes’ to make a difference in the world.
Barnes said he was humbled by the recognition and in disbelief that he follows the “tremendous men and women” who share the Lifetime Impact Award honor.
“I don’t feel like I am doing anything worthy of recognition,” he said. “I just try to be a great servant of God and give to back wherever I can and to whomever I can.”