John Barnett was born October 30, 1917 in Detroit, Michigan and died April 11, 2018 at Carveth Village in Middleville, Michigan. His parents were Laurence and Margret (Hampton) Barnett. John moved to Hastings with his family in 1928.
John graduated from Hastings High School in 1936 and served in the US Navy during World War II. He married Dorothy Helen Rensenhouse in 1947 and they were married 53 years before her death in 2000. They had four children; Barbra, Nancy, Mary and David.
John was a Boy Scout leader, a member of Rotary, Exchange Club, Jaycees and American Legion Post 45. He served on the Red Cross Board, zoning board, tax board, library board, Hastings City Council, Barry County Road Commission, and as a Barry County Commissioner.
John spent 40 years in banking and trust work, first with Nation Bank of Hastings, then Hastings City Bank. He was a past president of the S.W. Michigan Bankers Association and past member of the S.W. Michigan Estate Planning Council.
John was preceded in death by his brother George, his parents, his twin sister Margret Matson, his grandson Max Kinney and his wife Dorothy. He is survived by his children Barbra Scott (Nelson Roberts) and Nancy (Michael) Kinney of Hastings, Mary Barnett (Betsy Neisner) of Leverett, Massachusetts and David (Tracy) Barnett of Holland, Michigan, grandchildren John Kinney, Alice Kinney, Melania Neisner, Charley Neisner, Tamara (Eric) Rasmussen, Cameron (Kristina) Schuster, Faith Barnett, nieces Kay (Bert) Keeler, Suzanne (Norm) Udell, nephew Mark (Joyce) Matson, sister-in-law Barbara Rensenhouse and Betty Bahs.
John cherished his time spent at the family cottage on Grand Island in Lake Superior. He enjoyed watching birds and wildlife, doing woodworking and remodeling projects, good times with his Movie Memories friends at the library, and traveling to Costa Rica, Alaska, Mexico, Peru, Kenya, and Honduras with his daughter. He loved animals.
John was a kind and gentle man who quietly helped others and had a dry sense of humor. He considered Hastings to be the center of his universe.
There will be a gathering of family and friends at American Legion Post 45; 2160 S. M-37 Hwy, Hastings, on April 22, 2018 from 3:00 – 6:00 pm. Memorial contributions may be made to American Legion Post 45 for projects involving veterans and companion animals.
A special thanks to the staff of Carveth Village and Kindred Hospice for their devoted care and attention.
JOHN BARNETT DIES AT 100
On October 30,1917 John was born on the kitchen table delivered by his grandfather, renowned obstetrician
Dr. George Barnett. After puzzling over his scrawny nature, the doctor and his son Laurence E. Barnett broke
out in laughter as they grasped the reason why he was so small after a robust pregnancy. His mother, Margret
Barnett was not as amused at that moment and John’s twin sister Margret was born soon after. The Barnett
family, including an older brother George, moved from Highland Park, MI to Hastings in 1928. His father, L.E.
Barnett was a well known attorney and judge in Hastings until his death in 1979.
John’s early years were richly influenced by the ongoing antics and adventures created by his father who was
active in the local Civic Players theater group. John was always in on these elaborate schemes dreamed up
to entertain the masses, always without their knowledge that they were being witness to a hoax. He would
explain that these were the days before television, when people had to create their own entertainment. And oh
boy, did they!
The ploy would typically be staged to occur during a community outing. To the shock and horror of those enjoying
their picnic, a great serpent would suddenly rise out of the local lake. The mechanical beast was being
pulled on an underwater cable, the mechanics being operated discreetly by John and pals from the bushes,
allowing it to dive and reappear. His father would be on shore to alert the group and start the commotion.
Some local fellow with a shotgun, also privy to the prank, would come running in and blast at the creature,
intentionally missing it so as not to damage the mechanisms, though the crowd, in their panic, would never
notice his poor aim. Stories about “The Gun Lake Monster” or “Carter Lake Snake” would then appear in the
local paper. Other pranks involved “Stone Man” which was a ‘mummified’ body created from plaster and
buried in shrouds to suggest extreme age. “Wanda the Wonder Woman” was another found ‘body’… usually
placed in a field and ‘discovered’ by the farmer (in cahoots) while plowing. One of these stories caught the
attention of anthropologists from U of M, who took it back to their lab and discovered the truth (or not) of the
During high school John took flying lessons and, after graduating from Hastings High School in 1936, went on
to the Civilian Air Training Corps in Port Huron, MI, specializing in flight engineering and navigation. Back near
Hastings, he had convinced a local farmer to put a landing strip on one of his fields, and had planned to open
an airport with a buddy. They had their ‘grand opening’ on December 5, 1941.He would later recall that he’d
once run an airport…for 3 days. 0n December 7, Pearl Harbor was attacked and his airport was shut down by
the demands of the US entering WWII.
John enlisted in the Navy as a “CI” pilot in ’43 and was stationed in Columbus, OH and Banana River FL. He
taught flight and piloted the massive PBM’s (Patrol Bomber by Martin) aka “Flying Boats” as they lacked landing
gear and could only take off and land on water. He flew sorties between Florida and the Panama Canal
and when asked if he ever ‘saw any action’, his reply was “We were there to make sure there wasn’t any action.”
He was also involved in search and rescue efforts for several planes that ‘vanished’ over the Bermuda
Triangle. Though he never believed any sensational stories of a “supernatural” explanation, he did note that
their instruments were affected and in their return to the base, their compasses showed they were about 30
miles off course from where they expected to be.
Upon returning to Hastings in 1946 he worked at the Hastings National Bank which was a job he had landed
before the war. While working in a small local grocery store, his prowess at adding long columns of figures
tabulated on a paper bag caught the eye of a National Bank manager who then asked him to come work for
them as a bank teller. He liked to say that the Hastings City Bank then later ‘stole him’ to work for them in their
Loan Department. He was proud of helping educate many local kids by granting their parents college loans.
He was also a hero to many local farmers by granting loans needed for the success of their operations, when
commonly farm loans were denied as too risky. He went on to become the Vice President of HCB, and in
1971, upon completion of courses in trust work and estate planning, became head of the newly formed Trust
Department. Upon his retirement in 1984 after nearly 40 years in banking, he went on to volunteer his services
for many years to the local court, assisting elderly and disabled persons with their estate planning.
In the fall of 1946 he met his future wife Dorothy Rensenhouse of Three Rivers, MI, at a Halloween party
attended by student teachers from WMU. She’d been advised to avoid him as he had a reputation as a
“ladies man.” He’d been advised not to let her get away. They were married on December 21,1947 and
raised their 4 children Barbara, Nancy, Mary and David, at their home on East Mill street. John and Dorothy
were married 53 years until her unexpected death in December of 2000.
During those early years, John also worked extra jobs as a mechanic for Coe Chevrolet, as a clerk at the
old City Food and Beverage store, as a bookkeeper for a local gas station, for the Grain and Bean, and preparing
income taxes for various individuals. John also served his community as a two-term Alderman, four
years as a county commissioner, and was on the Barry County Road Commission for five years. He served
often as treasurer on countless other community committees and boards. He was a member and treasurer
of the Exchange Club which hosted many ‘Fly-Ins’ and model airplane meets at the current airport location.
He later joined the Rotary Club in 1971.
John was handy, clever, mechanically inclined, patient and a creative problem solver. He taught himself
woodworking and won a contest earning a $25.00 savings bond for the realistic detailed scale model play
kitchen he built for his kids in the mid-50s. He finished a large addition to his family home in the 60s working
nights and weekends customizing the interior with Popular Mechanics magazine as his Bible.
John would often be chastised for ‘stirring up the kids before bedtime’ by playing ‘octopus’… lying on the
floor and reaching out to capture and hold us with his many arms as we giggled and screamed in delight.
Though my mother’s childhood warning of “wait until your father gets home” held us in (the hoped for)
apprehension and reverence, he was the soft touch. When he did the grocery shopping, we could get him to
buy chocolate milk and those big orange marshmallow circus peanuts…as he loved those goodies too. He
survived raising 3 teenage girls in the late 60s – early 70s, which probably explains why he was especially
close with his son, as tinkering with engines was much less complicated.
He was very active with the Boy Scouts and took his troop, including his son Dave, on many camping trips,
twice to Grand Island off the UP in Lake Superior. On one trip their arranged pick-up time was forgotten by a
local fisherman, so the scouts were able to use their skills and earn merit badges in foraging edible plants.
Another winter camping trip ended in a helicopter rescue due to a blizzard. John always led with a calm
demeanor and steady judgment, so all survived these many real life (mis)adventures.
John spent countless hours with his son Dave, rebuilding a ’42 Army Jeep which he drove in many local
parades and events into his 90s. They continued working closely on hundreds of projects over the years.
He could be found scraping the bottom of a boat, working on a roof helping his son renovate his home or
rebuilding a chimney on his family cottage when well into his 80s.
John had always been interested in local history and won “best-trimmed beard” by growing out his red
mutton chops for the Hastings Historical Sesquicentennial in 1971 when Dorothy sewed them both period
costumes for the event. He also worked to perpetuate the project that his father had helped his friend establish:
the Charlton Park Village and Museum. In later years he was a docent there and took on the character
of the proprietor of the general store, bringing history to life to the many school kids and visitors.
He and Dorothy enjoyed a trip to Hawaii for their 25th wedding anniversary. After his retirement, when
Dorothy preferred to stay and tend her vast garden, he traveled with his daughter Barbra to Costa Rica,
Copper Canyon in Mexico, Alaska, Machu Picchu,Peru, Kenya on safari, and to Honduras taking his
grandson John Kinney along.
As a devoted husband he would diligently complete the “J.O.B.” list our mother generated and was often the
dishwasher and participant in household chores. He was however guilty of buying his wife practical gifts
such as a trash compactor and garbage disposal for Christmas.
John’s family hailed from the Upper Peninsula. His parents met when both of their families vacationed on
rustic Grand Island in Lake Superior. At the turn of the century, this island was more civilized than it is today.
A large hotel and lodge were established for the entertainment of executives of the Cleveland Cliffs
Mining Company which owned and logged the island. Dr.George Barnett was the company physician. The
Barnetts preferred staying several miles removed in one of four cottages built in 1902-1904 on a beautiful
sand beached bay that remains the family’s cottage to this day. The original cottages, an ice house and out
houses remain, but the horse-drawn carriages and the luxury of meals and provisions delivered from the
hotel and the hotel itself, are a thing of the past. John was the 4th generation of family Grand Islanders and
he carried the traditions on with his children and grandchildren who continue to travel from across the
country to spend time with family and friends, indulging in all the favorite old things and enjoying the natural
beauty and peace this nearly unchanged island still holds. Never a hunter or fisherman, he enjoyed the island
life by exploring and hiking, boating, watching the kids swim and play, or simply gazing out from the
bench at the beautiful pristine bay. He enjoyed simply relaxing on the screened porch with good company
and the bounties of the rustic kitchen and its cooks and bakers during a good blueberry season.
John exemplified the best of The Greatest Generation. Though never one to wear a fedora as his father
always did, he would always acknowledge his respect by tipping his cap when greeting someone and removing
it when entering a building, a cultural gesture that seems to have faded along with his generation.
Late in his life John became active with the Laurence J. Bauer American Legion Post #45, representing
the WWII era veterans. After Dorothy died, he was a regular at their former cafe and his fellow Legion
members were loyal friends and visitors to him during his last years at Carveth Village in Middleville.
He will long be remembered as a role model to all as a hardworking, trustworthy, kind, generous man who
believed in service to the community and enjoyed helping others. He once jumped in to the Thornapple river
and rescued a young man who had not surfaced after a dive. He pulled him out, wrapped him in a blanket,
carried him to our station wagon, took him to the hospital and then returned to our picnic at Tyden
Park. Though squeamish about needles, John was a frequent blood donor. Once he got a call that his O+
blood was needed for a heart surgery. Ironically, the patient was was the same young man that he had
pulled out of the river a few years before.
John could name cloud types, predict the weather, loved viewing the night sky, and was often seen with his
big yellow binoculars around his neck for viewing boats and birds. He was a punster and poet, loved to put
on a fireworks display on the beach, enjoyed a good cribbage match and reading National Geographic,
Smithsonian, and Air & Space magazines. He loved animals. The cats always chose his lap and the dogs
knew whom to beg from at the table.
John smelled of Old Spice and wore all the crazy shirts and ties we gave him. He maintained his social
graces, good nature, sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye even as his memory waned. Though not
outwardly demonstrative, he would choke up with emotion when having to say good-bye and send us off to
college or back to our lives across the country. And now it’s our turn to say good-bye.
John was predeceased by his brother George, his parents Laurence and Margret, his sister Margret Matson
and his wife Dorothy. He is survived by his children: Barbra Scott (Nelson Roberts) and Nancy Kinney
(Michael Kinney) all of Hastings, Mary Barnett (Betsy Neisner) of Leverett, MA, and David Barnett (Tracy
Barnett) of Holland, MI; his grandchildren: John (Emily Reitman) and Alice Kinney (Seattle and Nicaragua),
Melaina and Charles Neisner (Boston and Leverett, MA) and Foster/Faith Barnett of Holland; his stepgrandchildren
Tamara Rasmussen (Eric and family) of Georgia, and Cameron Schuster (Kristina) of Los
nieces Kay Keeler (Bert) of Hastings, Sue Udell (Norm) of Florida, and nephew Mark Matson (Joyce) of the
Hastings area and their families. John is also survived by his sister-in-law Barbara Rensenhouse, formerly
of Kalamazoo, and Betty Bahs of Hastings.