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Ordinary People

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Len Barr & Kathleen Shea on their sailing trip in Maine.

This is a story about ordinary people who live regular lives and who don’t believe there is anything interesting about their lives…(I happen to disagree with that but will let you come to your own conclusion.)

Kathleen Shea and Len Barr were born 16 years apart in Elmira, New York, home of Mark Twain. Kathleen’s mother had asthma and was told by doctors she should move to a dryer climate. So, with three children in tow, Gloria, age 19, Jerry, age 13 and Kathleen, age 3, they moved the family to Phoenix, Arizona.

Older sister Gloria was heartsick to leave her high school sweetheart Leonard (Len) Barr who had enlisted in the military. After a couple of years Gloria returned to New York and married Len who was by this time out of the service.

In the meantime, Kathleen grew up in Phoenix, graduated from St. Mary’s High School and went on to attend Phoenix College. She, along with her sorority sisters, got the idea they would all move to Manhattan Beach, California, where Kathleen lived for the next 33 years. She worked in Human Resources at Coldwell Banker but left for a while to work with youth in the Probation Department. “I loved my job,” Kathleen shared. So much so that she decided to obtain a degree at Cal State Northridge. About the time she finished and was ready to advance in her career, the program had big budget cuts and the job openings were no longer available. Kathleen disappointedly left that profession.

She had married and divorced during these years and although dated, never met another man to whom she wanted to be married. She went on one adventure with a boyfriend to live on an island. The plan was to refurbish a boat and go sailing but those plans never came to fruition. After a year, just as she was ready to return to civilization, her old boss at Coldwell Banker called and offered her a job to which she happily returned. She eventually moved up to become the Director of Human Resources.

So back to Len and Gloria…Len worked as a machinist and he and Gloria had four children: Tom, Nancy, Jerry and Sue. They moved to Phoenix about seven years after marrying for one year where daughter Nancy was born. They returned to New York (as many do) for a while but eventually moved back to Arizona to stay. In 1970 they bought property in Overgaard and in 1977 the entire family gathered to help build their cabin. Even Kathleen and her boyfriend pitched in!

Gloria, who went for her checkups along with a mammogram every year, happened to skip a year. The following year, 1990, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought a good fight for four years, but succumbed to the disease in 1994.

The following year Len took a trip with his dog Ginger in his S10 pickup to Alaska for three months. Kathleen, who loves to travel, the same year went on an African safari. She loved photography and honed her skills in her travels.

In early 1996, Kathleen and her girlfriend Diana invited Len to meet them at Joshua Tree National Park for a camping trip. On the first evening they built a big bonfire and were sitting around it enjoying it’s warmth. Diana excused herself for a few minutes and Len looked at Kathleen and said, “I’m thinking about getting married again.”

Kathleen thought to herself, “Wow, how nice of Len to drive all the way out here to tell me this in person.”

She said the next natural thing, “Who are you marrying?” Len replied without missing a beat, “I’d really like to marry you!” Just at that moment Diana returned to the bonfire and neither Kathleen nor Len said a word. They just carried on with Diana as if “the bomb” hadn’t just dropped.

Kathleen invited Len to return to her home in Aliso Viejo, California with her so she could introduce him to her friends at a barbecue she was throwing. Len happily accompanied her and everyone must have approved as he stayed on until Kathleen married him on June 29, 1996.

Kathleen told her friend Rene what had happened when they got back home and Rene said, “Maybe the reason you never remarried was because no one ever measured up to Len.” Kathleen seemed to agree that just may be the case.

The newlyweds decided to return to Arizona so they moved into the cabin in Overgaard. Len, who loves to stay active was looking for something to do. Kathleen’s mother was getting Meals on Wheels in Mesa and Len decided that was a good thing to do. He’s been a Meals on Wheels driver every Monday in Overgaard for the past 18 years now. “I’d rather deliver than be delivered to,” Len quipped.

Kathleen in the meantime started a full time photography business doing personal portraits and weddings. Her first client was friend Rene who talked her into being her wedding photographer and it took off from there. She has also served the past 18 years at the Rim Community Library as the volunteer Manager.

The story does take a brief turn when Kathleen a few years back was diagnosed with breast cancer. That year the medical practitioner had told her she could skip a year on the mammogram, but Kathleen insisted on having it done. Her cancer was caught early thanks to the mammogram. Unfortunately, Gloria wasn’t that lucky. Kathleen’s surgeon, Dr. Zannis, as it turns out, had been a former partner with Len’s son Jerry, who was also a physician. Dr. Zannis said, “I know your ‘stepson’ Jerry.” To which Kathleen replied, “You mean my ‘nephew’ Jerry.” It was all done in fun in this wacky situation. Thankfully since Kathleen’s cancer was caught early, she totally recovered and has remained cancer free.

The couple have enjoyed a great life together and have continued to travel each year including trips to Alaska, Glacier National Park, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, and went sailing in Maine. Can’t wait to hear where they’re going next!

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Kathleen’s business card with Len, Gloria and their family.

Speaking of Len as we were wrapping up our interview Kathleen told me, “He’s a really giving person.” And Len told me his son said to him, “I don’t know what would have become of you if not for Aunt Kathleen.” The couple have 16 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.

Now if that’s not an interesting story, I’m not sure what is. We have some amazing people in Heber-Overgaard who quietly go about living their lives, contributing to the community, and helping others. They don’t blow their horn, but they are what makes this such a special place in which to live.

Len and Kathleen, thanks for allowing me the privilege of sharing your special story. We wish you many more happy anniversaries!