Ed Barnes isn’t big on personal recognition. As a longtime leader of organized labor, he feels much more comfortable passing accolades along to the collective.
So the 85-year-old Vancouver pillar was shocked when he was chosen as the 2019 Clark County First Citizen. It was a good kind of shocked, though.
“It was a surprise. There’s a bunch of good people in Clark County, there’s not just one person – there’s several people that are deserving of the award,” he said, speaking to The Columbian a few minutes after hearing the news. “I’m very happy and very proud that the folks down there thought enough of me.”
Barnes was nominated by Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnery Ogle, as well as 1984 First Citizen Sally Schaefer, her husband and 2013 First Citizen Robert Schaefer, and former Washington State Rep. Al Bauer.
“It is no exaggeration to say that listing Ed’s significant accomplishments over his decades of leadership in our community, along with his awards and achievements, by volume alone would make this letter virtually unreadable,” the group wrote in its letter nominating Barnes to the selection committee.
A union man, U.S. Army veteran and volunteer with many local organizations, Barnes served as a private during the Korean conflict before passing up an opportunity to go to West Point in favor of returning home to Vancouver and becoming an electrician.
There, he went on to a decades-long career with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union. He served as business manager and financial secretary for Local #48 for 12 years, retiring in 1996.
Barnes said he’s fairly certain that “in the whole time that the foundation’s been going on, that anyone involved in labor has been picked for this award.” (The closest was probably Edward Kaiser in 1942, who was honored for supplying adequate housing, child care and a pre-paid health plan for workers.)
“We just have never blown our horn about all the things labor has done,” Barnes said. “We’re not about trying to take credit for anything, we’re about trying to get something done in a community to make it better.”
Barnes’ volunteering credo is prolific. He joined the effort to build the United Methodist Church in the Shumway neighborhood, served as Washington state’s Transportation Commissioner and was co-chair of the I-5 Corridor Committee. He served on several community boards, including Ronald McDonald House and Open House Ministries Housing Project. He founded the Truman Elementary Parent Teacher Organization with his wife, LuAnne, and the couple worked together to help the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Alcoa Little League.
He’s also been a vocal supporter of the need to replace the Interstate 5 bridge, and since his brief stint as a Clark County commissioner in 2014 was a thorn in the side of former Clark County Councilor David Madore — the then-83-year-old organized a rally in support of the city’s Community Planning staff during a 2016 dispute with Madore.
And those are just the highlights.
In addition to McEnery Ogle, Bauer and the Schaefers, Barnes’ nomination form was signed by 75 other people under a statement proclaiming his continued commitment to service.
“If you believe Ed Barnes has retired from supporting his IBEW local, organized labor nationally, his church or community, you just don’t know Ed Barnes,” the document states.
The Clark County First Citizen program honors a top contributor to the community in philanthropy and leadership. A pool of candidates is collected through public nomination, and then the winner is chosen by a volunteer committee that includes past winners.
The program is a partnership between the Community Foundation, The Columbian, Biggs Insurance Services and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Foundation, and presented by Pacific Premier Bank.
The (first) First Citizen was chosen in 1939: George Simpson, who served as a Vancouver city attorney and county judge and was elected to the Washington Supreme Court. A First Citizen has been chosen every year since then, with the exception of 1989, 2002 and this past year, all declared “transition years” by the Community Foundation.
“It’s hard to pat yourself on the back, I don’t like to do that. And when people say, ‘I, I, I,’ that makes me sick to my stomach. It’s about we,” Barnes said. “It makes me want to cry, really, to think that after all these years someone from organized labor finally got recognized.”