By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | Johnny and Virginia Barton have had a regular Thursday evening “gig” at the Walbridge Wing for 17 years, where they play old country and western songs that our senior citizens can appreciate and enjoy. With Johnny on the guitar and lead vocals and Virginia on harmony, they led off on Thanksgiving evening with Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” and went on to provide more than an hour of entertainment for folks who truly appreciate it, both residents and staff.
Originally coming from the Fresno, Calif., area, where they ranched, ran a body shop, sold used cars and had a small band—Johnny also plays banjo and mandolin—they came to Meeker for the hunting about 30 years ago and have been permanent residents since 1992. Johnny works at the Environmental Plant Center, and Virginia is practically a full-time volunteer at the wing, helping with activities or whatever else is needed.
In addition to his many instruments and the portable amplifier and microphones they use each evening, the Bartons also own much sound equipment. It is their sound system, in fact, that is used each year for the bank robbery reenactment during Meeker’s Independence Day celebration.
Jean Gianinetti, Wing activities manager for 14 years, said she could count on one hand how many times the Bartons have missed a Thursday evening. “They have also played for special occasions, such as [Ethel] Starbuck’s 99th birthday party,” she said. “A lot of our residents’ families have had them play at the resident’s funeral service because the residents love them so much.”
In addition to all this, Johnny has built the flower boxes around the facility and planted flowers in them. “He is just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to plants,” Gianinetti said. “It’s kind of barren up here, so he has really helped us figure out what to do.”
“I really can’t think of anything they haven’t done for our residents,” Gianinetti went on to add. “Ginny has gone on trips with me to take our residents shopping and things like that. Without people like Ginny and Johnny—and we do have other volunteers—my job would be miserable. I am just so glad for this opportunity to acknowledge them.”
As Alabama’s “Born Country” came through the speaker, such volunteers were, indeed, something to be thankful for.
By Doc Watson