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Dec. 10th – Luncheon Notes & Photos

Luncheon Notes by Teresa Schaal

President Derek Aten welcomed members and guests and made announcements on upcoming events and meetings. Keith Lang led us in singing a rousing version of Jingle Bells. Phil Johnson filled in for Randy Murphy and provided our invocation. Jonathan Pope read an extensive list of guests and welcomed each of them to today’s meeting.

Among the announcements was an update on the Senior Neighbors Holiday Lunch, provided by James Eliassen. It will be held on 12/22 and they need volunteers from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. While all the shifts are filled, more volunteers would be welcomed in the morning to help with the goody bags and set up. This luncheon is often the only Christmas celebration these seniors will have, so it is very meaningful to them. It will be held at Kuyper College. Contact the office for additional information on how you can be involved. Gift cards and donations are encouraged and will be raffled off at the luncheon.

Past Rotarian President Don Williams introduced today’s speaker, John Barfield, and noted that he has received three Honorary Doctorate degrees, one from GVSU. He has written a book and it is for sale; he will be happy to sign it. $15 of every $28 sale per book goes to Rotary International to help with Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio.

After a short video in which the comment was made: “Businessmen are made; entrepreneurs are born,” Mr. Barfield got up to speak. He mentioned that he had spoken to our Club before, when Fred Meijer invited him. Mr. Barfield’s business career spans over 65 years. He told about when he was 16 years old and joined the Army. He was stationed in Germany and drove a 10 ton truck. He shared a story about his lack of driving skills and an accident that he had on the narrow streets there when he ran into a German wall; he was quickly reassigned to another position.

From 1949 to 1954, Mr. Barfield worked as a custodian at the University of Michigan. Making just $1.75 an hour, he realized that he couldn’t support paying for his children’s education and provide the lifestyle he wanted for his wife. So he started working independently cleaning newly constructed houses in Ann Arbor. He soon realized that when he did this he could earn $70/day instead of $70/week, so he decided to start his own company. He hired the best people possible and paid them well, thus assuring quality work and employee loyalty. He sold that company to International Telephone & Telegraph for a sizeable sum of money and he retired at 39 years old.

However, Mr. Barfield is not one to sit still. He wanted to start other companies and IT&T took him to court because when they bought his company they thought they bought his identity as well. The judge ruled that Mr. Barfield could retain his identity and the case was ruled in Mr. Barfield’s favor.

He spoke warmly about his relationship with his wife and mother-in-law, reporting that he and his wife have been together for 73 years; married for 68 of these years. He shared a funny story about asking his then girlfriend’s mother for permission to marry her daughter while giving the mother a ride to work. When the mother replied “no,” Mr. Barfield pulled the car over and told her she could walk the rest of the way. Long story short, he was given permission to marry his wife and his relationship with his mother-in-law was a loving, positive one.

He had another opportunity to start a business in 1975 when GM executives approached him to discuss the need for minority and women suppliers. There were no minority businesses to be found – so he was asked to do the work. He said he “knew enough to know what he didn’t know and knew enough to go to someone who did,” which became one of the core principles in his companies. He started with 6 employees and now has 3,500 employees, and oversees 35,000 employees worldwide. His company was honored as the “Best Managed Service Company” over other, better known companies. He has been recognized as a pioneer for minorities and women.

Mr. Barfield read a letter that he received the day before his appearance at the Grand Rapids Rotary Club from one of the first people he hired in 1976. In it the letter writer said that Mr. Barfield inspired her when he hired her when she was 17 years old.

Mr. Barfield spoke about being critically ill when he was a child and how “two angels” came to see his family and direct him to a doctor. The doctor was able to cure him and the identity of the “angels” was never known. This led him to believe that God must have had work for him.

Mr. Barfield’s start in business began with a paper route when he was just 9 years old. He met a businessman who always wore a suit and tie. He decided he wanted to be a businessman, too, and started working for this man who sold “clean-a-leen soap.” It wasn’t long before Mr. Barfield had learned not only how to sell soap, but how to run the business. In all, Mr. Barfield started 11 companies; he’s sold five.

Mr. Barfield’s message is “never miss the opportunity to help young people.” He referenced the letter he had just received and announced he was proud to be a part of her future.

Forty years ago, Mr. Barfield told his Rotary Club that they should raise enough money to vaccinate 1,000,000 people from polio. He fell short of this goal, raising enough for almost 500,000 people to be vaccinated. He approached Rotary International’s Foundation to get the remaining funds needed to vaccinate 1,000,000 through contributions made from the sales of a book he wrote: Starting from Scratch: The Humble Beginnings of a Two Billion-Dollar Enterprise. He is contributing $15 out of the $28 book cost towards Rotary’s polio eradication efforts.

Mr. Barfield concluded his presentation with telling the audience that the best way to serve God is to serve others. He spoke of numerous projects that he has been engaged in all over the world, and the importance of sharing God’s blessings with others. He hopes that he will be remembered as a man with deference and humility.

In appreciation for his presentation to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids, President Derek presented Mr. Barfield with a certificate for a clean water filter for a needy family in Nicaragua; they then posed for the weekly Rotary President/Speaker Selfie.

Announcements were repeated and the meeting was adjourned. After the meeting, Mr. Barfield and his daughter sold copies of his book – personalized for the purchaser.

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