Barker selected as Memorial Day Parade honorary grand marshal

Published 10:05 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

The selection committee has chosen Hardy Barker as Honorary Grand Marshal of the Ironton Memorial Day Parade, the oldest continually held Memorial Day Parade in the nation.

“I’d just as soon someone else do it,” Barker said with a chuckle. “I don’t even know what to do but I guess they’ll show me.”

Barker, 84, was drafted in 1951 and spent nearly all of 1952 serving the U.S. Army on the frontline in the Korean War as a jeep and tank mechanic. When he returned to the United States in 1953 he met Opal, the woman he married six months later. She died four years ago.

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“She laid all the brick on the front part of our house on the family farm,” he said about his late wife. “I’ve poured enough concrete in my life to build a highway from here to Portsmouth and she did just as good a job as I could have. I mixed the mortar and she laid the brick.”

Barker grew up in Westwood, Ky., and was a heavy equipment operator at Armco Steel Corp. for 43 years, but has spent most of his life working. His father died when he was 5 years old and he assumed the role of providing for his mother and two sisters.

“There wasn’t such a thing as welfare back then and my mother had an awful time trying to raise us kids,” he said. “Anything I could do to help my mother, I did it.”

Barker says he probably cut every yard in the Kentucky suburb of Bellefonte at one point and also worked as a caddy and landscaper at the Bellefonte Country Club. He was a pinsetter at a local bowling alley, worked at his uncle’s garage, pumped gas and started delivering newspapers when he was 12. When not working he tended to the family’s cow and chickens.

Barker has three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and now spends his time washing dogs at the family owned BARKer Shop Pet Grooming in Ironton. Before arriving at the BARKer Shop he can be found at McDonald’s in Ironton where he meets with friends and feeds the birds in the parking lot.

Two years ago Barker made headlines on local news and in Good Help, Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital’s magazine, for walking just one day after undergoing double hip replacement surgery.

He said his favorite thing to do is ride horses — he has seven on the family farm at Lake Vesuvius — and at times he would leave on a horse in the early morning and not return until dark.

“Before I had the hip replacements I wouldn’t even walk out on the farm and couldn’t ride horses anymore,” he said. “Now, the doctor said I can ride horses but I’m scared to because I don’t want to break one of my new hips.”

One thing he is not afraid to do, however, is try new things.

“I went down one of the slides at M&M Inflatables during a birthday party,” he said. “They all thought I was too old and I wanted to show them you’re never too old.”