"This is a big honor for me and I thank you and thank everybody that’s behind it and, I don’t know, you caught me speechless," Hidden Hero Rich Barton says.
The surprise was almost ruined. Rich Barton saw his wife, Heidi, arrive at the Warrenton Golf Course and got curious.
Fortunately, she and the three grandkids had a passable excuse – they were showing up to say hi before heading to the barbecue at the Warren County Sheltered Workshop, where Barton also volunteers.
So when Linda Staggs and Warren County Record Publisher Tim Schmidt entered the clubhouse, the surprise was still on – Barton was named this month’s Hidden Hero by The Record.
“Total shock,” Barton said. “I’m very touched and very honored that Miss Staggs took the time out to do this. This is a big honor for me and I thank you and thank everybody that’s behind it and, I don’t know, you caught me speechless.”
“That’s unusual,” Staggs joked.
Staggs nominated Barton for the honor. The two were neighbors when Staggs moved to Warrenton more than 20 years ago, and he got her through a difficult night.
“My grandson was visiting me and got a hold of a kerosene lamp and drank it,” Staggs said. “Rich flew to my rescue, drove me all the way to the hospital, sat with me for two-and-a-half hours in the middle of the night to see what they were going to do with the child and brought me back. Now this man barely knew me. I was scared. And I wouldn’t have made it through without him.”
That started a bond that now has Staggs glowing about her friend.
“He is truly a blessing,” she said. “Rich means so much to me because he’s the first one in Warrenton to show me that small town warmth.”
Barton spent his professional career as a teacher and coach at Warrenton High School. He retired in 2015 along with his wife after 26 years in the district. He said he struggled after retiring.
“I went from having an audience every day to having no one to talk to,” he said. “And it really hurt me for a little while until I got it figured out, and so now I found my niche. I enjoy being around people.”
Volunteering, he said, helped give his life purpose
Now, Barton can be found all over the Warrenton community. He’s the voice of the Warrenton football team, and in addition to his job at the golf course and his work with the sheltered workshop, he’s also on the Warren County R-III school board, volunteers at Martin Funeral Home, and a part-time preacher who provides weekly devotionals and encouragement on Facebook.
“I mean, he’s just amazing,” Staggs said.
“I just enjoy what I do,” Barton said. “It really keeps me busy and I like being a part of the community.”
Staggs said if she could only use one word to describe Barton, it would be …
“Handsome,” Barton chuckled.
“Well that, too,” Staggs laughed. “I don’t even know. It’s hard to pick!”
But she ultimately settled on one strong word – “giving.”
“That means a lot,” Barton said. He also credits his wife for that.
“I used to get mad at my wife because I’d always say she’d give until it hurts,” Barton said. “And then when I went through that time where I was trying to find myself again, I prayed to God ‘make me more like Heidi. I want to be giving like her.’ And I think that’s been a big part of my life is that I’ve let go and become more of a giver than I ever thought I could be.
“I think you always were, Rich,” Staggs said. “He sells himself short. He has a heart as big as all, I think. And so does his wife. That’s what makes this duo so amazing there. It’s not just him, it’s him and Heidi.”
While Barton was quick to deflect the praise for his service to the community, he did encourage everyone to step up and volunteer.
“Sometimes we have to reinvent ourselves a little bit,” he said. “There’s so many organizations to get involved in in our community. Just reach out and take a chance,” Barton said.
The Warren County Record routinely accepts nominations for Hidden Heroes. The next recipient will be chosen in September. Nominations can be made online at warrencountyrecord.com/hiddenhero.
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com
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