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Remembering the Barn: Reflections from George Bussey, NCHS Class of 1967

George Bussey was part of the core group of high school students who led the planning, fundraising and construction of the Barn in 1965. He became president of the Naperville Youth Organization, Inc.  which organized and ran the dances and youth events at the Barn.

The top photo is George giving BARN membership card #00001 to their school’s foreign exchange student. The bottom photo is George’s BARN membership card, #00002.  

Some of his experiences are highlighted in the Naperville Sun article by Joni Hirsch Blackman. He kindly emailed the following reflections, including more details and some of his feelings about being part of such a huge community effort.

 George Bussey at the Barn cornerstone dedication ceremony, 1965

I was a sophomore when I first learned of The BARN.  The original founders of the idea, Larry Bowers, Steve Ryan, Carol Reedy, Dianna Mayes and Al Carr introduced me to it one afternoon after school.  I think it grabbed my attention because there was a real, tangible focus on something that would both benefit my class but also classes in the years to come. 

Other than getting on the student board and attending meetings, I think my first significant activity occurred with the bond drive that we organized in the middle of the winter of 1965.  I was responsible for what is now known as the “Old East Highlands” area.  I was able to get a number of my neighborhood friends to agree to go out canvassing for bonds on the last Sunday of January, and as it turned out our area raised the most money on the first day of the drive – with many other areas really struggling.  I think from this I learned that: 1) I was pretty good at engaging other students to help out, and 2) when something turns out well others think you have a magic formula (when you really don’t know yourself exactly why it went so well).

The ragged graph is my graph of the fund raising for The BARN for the section of Naperville I was responsible for.  Probably hard to see, but our group of students raised about $1,500 the first Sunday, leading all other neighborhoods that day.  The last column is our total for the Sunday through Sunday period of that first week - around $5,500 or so.

 And (here’s a) story that Jeff Morrow referenced in the article in the Sun.  He and I were out canvassing and selling bonds and we went to a house on what was then called River Road, which was accessed back behind the North Central football field.  We were used to selling $25 bonds and on rare occasions more than one at a time.  So we knocked on the door of this very nice house and when the door was answered by an older woman (probably younger than I am now) we began our prepared talk.  Jeff was quite the showman and salesman, so I was not surprised that we were able to get an invitation to come in and expound on our grand youth center.  The furniture was very nice.  The kind that a teenager would be very nervous sitting on.  My recollection was that there might have actually been two ladies, but things get blurry with time.  Regardless, she quizzed us and we answered as best we could.  After all of that she said, (or words to that effect, anyway) “OK, we would like to buy three bonds.”  We were ecstatic - we had just sold $75 worth of bonds.  But as I started to confirm the sale … “so that will be three $25 bonds ….”  she corrected me, “oh no, three $100 bonds.”  We did our best to keep our cool in the house, but once we got outside with the check in hand we just about flipped out.  To us, that was an enormous amount of money (probably in excess of $2,000 in 2016 dollars).  I am hoping that somebody, upon reading about that event, will remember just who that was, because she made a lasting impression on these two high schoolers.

Over the next several months, as many of the original leaders were getting ready to graduate, it was time to elect new officers and I was selected as president.  Out of that experience I learned the importance of listening to others and engaging them in the decisions that needed to be made, while at the same time the role that leaders needed to play in keeping everybody focused on task and managing the “politics” of the various situations that arose.

 Once construction got started there was an incredible sense of accomplishment, but even more a sense of real community among the students that were spending many hours of their free time helping to build The BARN.  Looking back on it, certainly we had a sense that we were doing something special, but I don’t think we fully appreciated just how special the circumstances were.  I don’t know how it is for others who helped to build the place, but when I have returned to town and gone by the building I can look at the walls supporting the roof trusses and remember building the re-bar lacing that is inside the concrete, and hammering into place the bolts that hold the trusses together.  I can remember working on the roof, laying down the tongue and groove boards, and then later nailing in the tarpaper and shingles.  We would be up there after dark, standing on narrow cleats nailed into the steepest part of the roof, or walking along the top part, our paths lit only by single light lamps strung across the open area of the unfinished roof.  I doubt that with today’s safety concerns and rules any of us would have been allowed to do any of that work, but for us it was high adventure and camaraderie.  On a slightly different note, but related to the same period of time, our “go to” place for meals was the Burger King, which is still there today.  I fondly remember sitting there with Al Carr or Jeff Morrow and being able to eat two Whoppers, large fries and a large shake with not a thought for the caloric or fat content of that meal.  J

And when it was finally done, it was OUR BARN.  We were very proud and possessive of it – wanting it respected, treated well.  And I think for some of us it was the first tangible creation of our lives – and amazing to think that it has stood this long.

Lessons learned and insights gained?  Let me quote from a letter that I sent to my grandparents during the summer we were building The BARN, when I was sixteen:

“At first I didn’t think I would be able to do the job the way it should be done.  But the longer I worked at it, the more and more it became a challenge to see it through and make The BARN become a reality.  It has also been a test … I’ve never been real sure of being able to handle something that had to be done, or sure whether I could carry the load of being in a position of being responsible for something big, something where more people than I can count are going to be affected by what I do.  If I succeed, I think I’ll better know what I really can do, and what I can’t do.” 

Later in that same letter I talked about Al Carr and me,  when we visited another town and talked to kids and adults there about the BARN.  In the letter I said, “I enjoyed that contact with these other kids more than any other thing I’ve done for the BARN.  We are glad to talk to anyone who wants to listen to us, for we want every town that can - to have a youth center.  We can also tell them what ideas worked and where we made mistakes in the hope that they will shy away from them.”

To turn this ramble into a modern PowerPoint bullet slide:

1.You can dream big and make your dreams come true – if you are willing to work long and hard.

2.It took the whole town to raise The BARN, but it also required a core group of dedicated adults and students.

3.Sometimes the best efforts come from folks that you haven’t even noticed (I had no idea that the students I had recruited to go out and raise money would be so successful!!)

Finally, not to be overly sentimental about it, but in my professional career I have done a lot of things, been a manager of hundreds of people and overseen budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, but outside of my family and raising two great kids, the most satisfying “job” I ever had was being part of building The BARN.


(L to R) George Bussey, Carol Reedy (next 2 names are unknown), and Tim Smith
If anyone knows the names of the two girls wearing scarves, please feel free to add a
comment to the post or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Read more about the Barn's history in a companion blog post here.

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