The joyful noise – the jokes, shouts and general commotion that comprise the soundtrack of Penn State Abington - has dropped a few notches in volume. The raucous laugh is gone, retired along with its owner after echoing around the campus for portions of six decades.
Bob Barton, senior instructor of kinesiology, called it a career at the end of the spring semester, leaving behind indelible traces of the infectious optimism that he first brought to Abington as a student in the late 1960s.
After a stint in the Army, he returned and earned an associate degree in Recreation and Parks in 1974 and was promptly hired as athletic and recreation supervisor. He served at various times as coach, athletic director, intramural coordinator, instructor and unofficial mentor to thousands of students during the ensuing 38 years.
“I feel so blessed to work here,” Barton said recently, still using the present tense. “My fondest memories are of the students. I see their faces, not wins and losses.”
Barton treasures his collaboration with the late Wes Olsen, his good friend and Abington athletic director.
“Wes gave me carte blanche to run intramurals, the growth was incredible,” he said. “Wes was so supportive. He was logical to my passionate. He was the big picture guy while I lived in the moment. I never had to grow up.”
“Street hockey was really successful, but a little rough,” he said, laughing heartily as he recalled the 1970s and 1980s. “The kids from Northeast Philly didn’t hold back. They would crash around the rink, which was on the tennis courts.”
“But on the serious side, we also started adult clinics and camps, hosted charity events and started working with Special Athletes,” he said.
Barton’s effusive personality made itself known outside of the Athletics Building.
“On Halloween, I would walk around Sutherland Building in a costume and nobody knew it was me. People just avoided me,” he said, leaning forward and slapping the table. “We had fun back in the day. And here’s something else: We almost got Bruce Springsteen to perform here before he made it big! Bruce! Can you imagine?”
Barton’s distinguished service and contributions to Abington athletics were recognized in 2006 when he was named to the University’s Robert J. Scannell Roll of Honor. The award is presented annually to a coach, faculty or staff member who serves campus athletic, intramural and recreation programs with distinction.
At the time, Abington Chancellor Karen Wiley Sandler said, “Bob Barton has been a leader in developing our programs and providing vision and leadership in many areas of our academic and student life.”
Despite his dedication to Abington, Barton managed to achieve that elusive work/life balance by seamlessly blending his worlds. He met his wife, Mac, when they were students at what was then known as Ogontz campus, and his four children are all Penn State alumni. Some of his closest friends share his ties to Abington, and he lives within a mile of campus.
But the final word on Barton comes from his longtime friend and colleague Pat Clayton, senior instructor of kinesiology at Abington.
“Commitment is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Bob Barton. Commitment to academics, to athletics, to our students, to the kinesiology department, and to Penn State Abington,” she said fondly. “With his classes and his athletes, Bob took raw talent and molded those skills into successful human beings and team players. Bob is a person who makes Penn State Abington...Penn State Proud.”