From accounting to business management to education, Mary Lee Hannafus Barr ’66 has demonstrated both versatility and a commitment to excellence. While at SHS she served on Student Council, Whippet Tales staff and the Scarlet S editorial team. She was a cheerleader for all four years at SHS, a member of Tri-Hi-Y and designed sets for plays.
After graduating, although wanting to go to college, she went to work – with the thought of saving money to someday attend college. Her first career included 22 years in accounting and management at Standard Tube Co. (later aka Quanex and Tech Form Industries). Through her willingness to learn and grow, she worked her way up to a management position as accounting office manager and assistant human resources manager.
One of Mary Lee’s attributes is her ability to turn adversity into something positive. At age 42 as a single parent of three children, two in college and one in high school, she found herself without a job, because Tech Form Industries closed. This was at a time when many area businesses were closing their doors, so finding similar employment was nearly impossible, especially for someone without a college degree. With encouragement from family and friends and by earning some government grants and scholarships, dissolving her 401k, refinancing her house, taking out student loans and working numerous part time jobs, she bit the bullet and started attending classes at The Ohio State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English Education. After a year as a substitute teacher in every school system in Richland County, she was hired as a business co-op instructor at Pioneer Career and Technology Center. During her first few years at Pioneer she went on to earn a master’s in Education Administration at Ashland University. Throughout her 21 years at Pioneer, with aplomb she held a wide range of positions: adult education business teacher, career education specialist, English teacher, and career technical supervisor.
While at Pioneer she also led several initiatives to benefit students. As the head of the literacy committee she promoted “reading for pleasure” by instituting the Sustained Silent Reading program, in which for 20 minutes each Friday, everyone in the building reads—not homework, but rather something they read as a choice. Data from the school librarian shows that student reading has increased greatly since the program’s inception. Another of her initiatives is the Work Ethic Endorsement program in which students earn special recognition and a cash award for displaying characteristics of a good work ethic. The criteria includes 96% or higher attendance, ability to follow rules, passing all subjects, and a variety of other activities including community service, skills competitions, serving on committees, serving as officer of one of the various clubs, early job placement and many others. Mary Lee designed the program with input from business and industry partners, some of whom also have supported it financially.
A colleague at Pioneer relates that Mary Lee’s ability to lead with professionalism and kindness is why she is highly admired by fellow administrators, teachers, support staff, and students. This colleague relates a story of a student who said, “Mrs. Barr is really nice. Even when I screw up and she has to give me a detention, she does it in a nice way.”
Mary Lee retired from Pioneer as a Career Technical Supervisor in January of 2015. But she has returned there part time as Director of Business Affairs in the board office. She is an active member of the First Lutheran Church in Shelby. She is a member of the SHS Alumni Association’s board of directors and serves as its secretary. Says a classmate, “Mary Lee was always first to volunteer for whatever needed done and still does. She is extremely creative and the backbone of our class. The word ‘no’ is not in her vocabulary.”
She lives near Ashland with her husband Art, who is a retired teacher from Pioneer. They have four children: Andrew Hopkins ’87 and wife Jodie Pfahler Hopkins ’86 (of Lewis Center OH); Heather Hopkins Fighter ’89 and husband Rob (of Shelby); Heidi Hopkins Fedrizzi ’94 and husband Jeff (of Lake Oswego, Oregon); and Ann Barr Kleilein and husband Larry (of Delaware OH). They have eight grandchildren: Drew Hopkins; Morgan and Madeline Baker; Enzio, Abbi and Jake Fedrizzi; and Lane and Luke Kleilein.
Nominators: Connie Jones Glorioso ’66, Gary Seals ’66.