Barnes Reflects on her ‘Wonderful Career’ at Auburn University

October 27, 2014

Charlotte Barnes
Charlotte Barnes

Charlotte Barnes, who has served for the past 14 years as the Executive Assistant to the Dean and Business Manager for the College of Education, will retire this fall after 35 years of service to Auburn University.

“I was born in Auburn and grew up here,” Barnes said. “I am part of two very old Auburn families. I married into the Barnes family, and like me, my husband spent his career here at Auburn University. But my maiden name is Stinson. My people also grew up here and live here and several of them have also worked at Auburn University. We are just an Auburn family!”

Barnes had eight siblings growing up, most of them younger than she was, so she had to work hard all of her life to help her parents with the household expenses.

“My father only had a third grade education but that did not stop him from working hard and encouraging us to better ourselves,” said Barnes. “He retired after a career with the City of Auburn, and my mother worked for Sam and Nancy Lyle. Mrs. Lyle was like another mother to me. She made my prom dresses and became very involved if our family ever encountered any injustice. She was truly a great woman. I do not know how we could have made it through all we did without her.”

Barnes started first grade at the segregated Boykin Elementary, but spent her next 11 years in the newly-integrated Auburn City Schools.

“I started at Wrights Mill Road School in the second grade and things generally went well for me there,” she said. “One boy does stand out in my mind, however. I sat in my assigned seat on the first day of class and he leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘You just want to sit next to a white boy.’ He was very quiet and almost sneaky about it. I went home and told my mother and she just told me to find a new place to sit.”

Besides that surprising start, Barnes said the rest of her school years were fun, rewarding, and filled with friends.

“In addition to my regular academic curriculum, I took a series of business and office courses and by the time I graduated in 1979 I was actually job ready,” she said.

Her job skills were sharpened by the professional focus she displayed growing up. In addition to helping at home, Barnes began working at Bonanza Steak House at age 15, and eventually graduated to a better job at Danver’s, a popular 1970s-era Auburn restaurant on the Opelika Highway, where she worked until her graduation.

“I was ready for a good full-time office job and went to the State Employment Office,” she said. “I enrolled in the Manpower Training Institute, but it was essentially the same thing I had done at Auburn High School, so I really excelled there. I was hoping to get on at Auburn but of course there was a long wait list, so I was very surprised when I received a phone call from Dr. Dave Topel, the Department Head of Animal Science in Upchurch Hall.”

Barnes went in for an interview the following day and was hired on the spot. Years later she and Topel were reminiscing on their days working together and he asked Barnes if she knew how she ended up being hired so quickly. She said no.

“I called that school you were in and asked them to send me their very best student!”

Barnes began as a typist, quickly advanced to staff secretary, and then took on a new role, unique to that time and place.

“This was probably about 1981, and the Department ordered in a new piece of equipment that no one knew how to use: a word processor. I asked Dr. Topel if I took the technical manual home and learned how to use the equipment, could I have the new position of Word Processor Operator. He said I could, so I really went after that. I remember how everyone was so impressed that I knew the difference between a data disk and a storage disk. I definitely recall a professor saying, ‘Look! She can even save the file for later use!’ It’s funny to look back and see how rapidly things have changed over the years.”

After 21 years Barnes had become the Office Supervisor, which was as far as she could advance in the Animal Science Department. So, with very mixed feelings, she took a promotion and moved to the College of Education.

“I just never thought it could be that good anywhere else on campus,” she said. “I was so young when I started at Animal Science and became very close to many of those faculty members. I grappled hard with the idea of leaving, but was so happy when I was welcomed into my new home here in the College of Education.”

Barnes came in as Executive Assistant to then-Dean Fran Kochan. Her title was expanded to include Business Manager of the College a few years later.

“Having the privilege to work beside Dr. Kochan and Dr. Whitford has been truly wonderful,” Barnes said. “They are first of all great people, great individuals, but in their professional lives they are also supportive and fair. I could not have asked for two better supervisors.”

Barnes said the greatest challenge in her 14 years at the College has been balancing the annual budget. She called that aspect of her job “stressful but rewarding.” She has also enjoyed the Human Resources part of her work, having processed papers on perhaps 100 new employees over the years.

“And then there are all the people I’ve known here,” Barnes said. “I like being in a place where our students and faculty truly care about those children out there in our schools, and how they also reach out to communities like Loachapoka that don’t have as many resources as some school districts. I like being in an environment where our work really matters, and our students and faculty know that and care about it.”

She also added that her office colleagues, Sandy Davis and Cynthia Duffie, are very special to her. “We’ve been together so long that we are like sisters,” she said.

But Barnes knows that all good things end and new adventures begin.

“I feel that my time has run its course,” she said. “The new budget model for the University is a big climate change and Dr. Barton is so knowledgeable in that area. My daughter Tamara is working on her doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling, and my daughter Alfreda works as Lead Administrative Assistant with Dr. Martin in Special Education, so I will still have a strong connection to our College. Plus, I have a new granddaughter that I want to be with, along with my three grandchildren in Atlanta whom I would like to see more often. So the time is right.”

When she was still in her mid-20s, Barnes briefly considered moving away from her Auburn career to pursue an attractive professional opportunity. But her husband Alfred talked to her about what really mattered and she has been grateful for his guidance ever since.

“Looking back, that call from Dr. Topel that came out of the blue, my promotion to the College of Education, the paths my children have taken in life to make me so proud – I truly believe these are blessings from God that have made my life possible.”

“I have had a wonderful career, better than I ever could have imagined, and I am just so happy that we will continue to be what we have always been: an Auburn family.”

Note: Mrs. Barnes will be honored for her 35 years of dedicated service to Auburn University at a reception on Friday, November 14, from 3:00-5:00 p.m., at the Auburn Alumni Center, located at 317 South College Street. All COE staff and faculty are invited to attend.

Story and photo by George Littleton