Dr. Marion Barnes Has Enjoyed Diverse Life

Saturday, July 6, 2002 - by John Shearer
Dr. Marion Barnes has been a college president and an inventor. Click to enlarge all our photos.
Dr. Marion Barnes has been a college president and an inventor. Click to enlarge all our photos.
- photo by John Shearer

Dr. Marion Barnes has literally and figuratively had several mountaintop experiences in his 89 years, from serving as president of Covenant College, to fighting a bear in the Smoky Mountains, to helping expand a Christian school in Kenya.

He also spent much of his life as a chemist and chemistry professor, and spent plenty of other time coming up with formulas for success in other fields. But through all the different experiences, the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church member has kept a singular focus on doing the Lord’s work.

“I feel the Lord has taken especially good care of me,” he said modestly as he looked back on his life recently from his bluff home, three miles south of Covenant College.

Born in 1913, Dr. Barnes began his working career as a child behind a mule near El Dorado, Ark. After high school, he attended a small college in Arkansas and later the University of Arkansas. After graduation, he secured a chemistry teaching position at City College of New York while embarking on graduate school. He later accepted a professorship teaching chemistry and qualitative analysis at Columbia University to future professional school students enlisted in the Navy during World War II.

Being in New York was quite a contrast to Arkansas, he said. “I liked the education and cultural things, but the other things about New York I didn’t especially care for,” he said.

He had always wanted to work at a Christian college, so he later was hired at Wheaton College in Illinois. Right before he was to leave, he received a rare opportunity to teach at Harvard. He asked Wheaton officials if he could work briefly at Harvard before going to Wheaton to make his resume more impressive, but they said no.

After a stint at Wheaton, he entered the field of chemical research. That work ranged from making ammonium nitrate less explosive to trying to come up with more uses for sulfur.
Unbeknownst to him, he was about to come up with a use not for sulfur, but for the old Lookout Mountain Hotel. In the mid-1960s, he was working in St. Louis for the giant Monsanto Company, but he was also serving as chairman of the board of trustees for the nearby Covenant College.

The college wanted to move its undergraduate school to another campus and also needed a new president. Dr. Barnes offered to serve in the position, so the board handed the reins to this man who had once held the reins of a mule. “I liked the idea of being president of a Christian college,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been satisfied at sacrificing my salary to take a job just at any college.”

The school learned about the hotel property through Huntsville, Ala., real estate salesman Hugh Smith. The school at first did not like the idea of moving South to Lookout Mountain, but Mr. Smith was a good salesman and persisted, Dr. Barnes remembered.

Because the previous two hotel operators had failed, the owner of the property agreed to sell the structure for a use other than a hotel. When Covenant moved into the structure after miraculously raising enough funds to buy it, the building had been vacant for several years and had become dilapidated. “It was in mothballs,” Dr. Barnes said. “It had been unused for two, three or four years. The last owners had tried to get as much money out of it as possible and had sold the steam radiators.”

The school quickly went to work renovating the hotel, including removing a feature at the top of the tower at the strong recommendation of the architect. After the building was made functional for college use, Dr. Barnes helped raise funds and oversee the construction of three other buildings – a gymnasium, dormitory and library. He went on to serve as president of Covenant for 15 years before retiring.

But his life was just beginning. He and his late wife, Vera, had always wanted to be missionaries, so in 1984, with the help of a Maclellan Foundation gift, he began working with a Christian school in Nairobi, Kenya, as a consultant. Through his advice and suggestions, the school went from a small institute that trained only pastors and Christian workers into Daystar University, which now has around 2,000 students.
He said he enjoyed getting to know the Kenyan people. “They were so warm and friendly and deeply appreciative of everything I did for them,” he said. “It was a joy working with them.”

About the only Kenyan that was not so hospitable was a deadly cobra that whizzed by his head when he unknowingly picked up a pole in which the snake was resting in a wilderness area.

A few years earlier, Dr. Barnes had been with a grandson hiking the 70-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trial through the Smoky Mountains for his 70th birthday when he stumbled upon a bear. Thinking other people were nearby and would help him, he boldly struck the animal, and it fled. After it did, he looked around and realized no one else had been there to help him.

Word of the feat spread along the trail nearly as fast as a late summer wildfire, and people were quite surprised to learn that the Appalachian Tarzan was retired and of very medium build.

In the rest of his life, he has also been quite successful simply by following the Christian principles of helping.

“I feel the Lord has directed my life in the crucial places,” he said. “I have never felt alone in this life. I have felt that the Lord was with me in most of the difficult places I have been.”


"I Need Some Time" Continues Sunday At Metro Tab Church

Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist To Host Graduation Lunch Celebration And Fashion Show May 25

Bob Tamasy: When Asking Isn’t A Risk


The series "I Need Some Time" continues Sunday at Metropolitan Tabernacle Church with worship at 10:30 a.m. The message will be brought by Dr. Steve Ball the founder and senior pastor. Come ... (click for more)

Graduates, scholarship recipients and their parents are joining the Women in Ministry at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, May 25 at noon to be entertained while celebrating ... (click for more)

Have you ever seen one of those public marriage proposals at an athletic contest, when some guy in the stands arranges to have the camera trained on him and his lady love when he decides to drop ... (click for more)


Church

"I Need Some Time" Continues Sunday At Metro Tab Church

The series "I Need Some Time" continues Sunday at Metropolitan Tabernacle Church with worship at 10:30 a.m. The message will be brought by Dr. Steve Ball the founder and senior pastor. Come early at 10 a.m. and enjoy coffee and breakfast bars with the pastoral staff. Music will led by Worship Pastors Adam and Olivia Aziz along with the Metro Praise Team, choir and band. ... (click for more)

Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist To Host Graduation Lunch Celebration And Fashion Show May 25

Graduates, scholarship recipients and their parents are joining the Women in Ministry at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, May 25 at noon to be entertained while celebrating their graduation. A lunch will be served, and guests can mix and mingle with other graduates from other schools and colleges. "You will be entertained in a relaxed atmosphere ... (click for more)

Breaking News

4 People Shot At 2 Hixson Locations; 2 Killed On Ardis Lane; 2 Men Shot At Northgate Crossing Apartments In Hixson

Four men were shot in two overnight shootings in Hixson. Two people were shot and killed on Ardis Lane. At approximately 10:07 p.m., Chattanooga Police responded to the 6700 block of Ardis Lane on a report of persons shot. Upon arrival, police located two men suffering from gunshot wounds. Hamilton County EMS responded and pronounced Kirtus Thompson, 27, deceased on ... (click for more)

Greg Vital Says Ancient Stone Cairns, Part Trail Of Tears Route Found On His Meigs Farm; Asks TVA To Reroute Project Viper Transmission Line

Lawyers for Georgetown property owner Greg Vital notified the Tennessee Valley Authority on Thursday that a second archaeological study of the site found 15 different Native American artifacts, not one, as TVA said in its official report in April. “There are 14 more historically significant cairns in a distinguishable pattern within a hundred yards of what TVA said was the only ... (click for more)

Opinion

Chattanooga's Shooting Epidemic

These shootings continue and something has to be done to try and stop them whether they are domestic, robbery or gang related. We obviously can not remove these handguns from every man, woman and child. I suggest that merchants that sell handguns raise the minimum age to 21 years for the purchase of handgun ammunition only. This 21 age requirement would not include ammunition ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Mr. Casada Is Through

Sometime this afternoon, the Republican members of the Tennessee Legislature will join a growing chorus of those convinced it is time for Glen Casada, the group’s Speaker of the House, to step down. They will cite several tawdry emails between Casada’s former Chief of Staff and himself as the reason but that’s not entirely true. Casada will step down in great shame because he has ... (click for more)