John Barnes, father of modern BSU, dies at 89

In his decade as president, he helped move the school from a college to a university.

broberts@idahostatesman.comJune 8, 2013 

John Barnes in his Meridian home in 2007.


John Barnes, Boise State's president from 1967 to 1977, took a small college and erected buildings that gave the school a footprint.

"He was like a hard-driving corporate CEO," said Dyke Nally, who worked with Barnes for nine of his 10 years as president. "He was no-nonsense."

In 2007, Barnes reflected on his time at Boise State for the school's alumni magazine.

"My first challenge was to fund new buildings," he said. "We were adding (hundreds of) new students each year and I was hiring faculty like mad. … I knew this wouldn't be a small place for long."

Jackie Cassell, who served as his administrative assistant, said Barnes would come to work early in the morning and watch the construction.

"If he saw something that should be moving faster, he would be on the phone," she said.

Among the building construction he oversaw: business and economics, the Special Events Center and Bronco Stadium, one of the school's most enduring landmarks.

Barnes possessed a strong school spirit for Boise State. At rallies he would start the "Boise (pause) State" chant. If people didn't join in, he would go over and talk to them, Nally said.

"The Boise State family has lost a great leader and friend," Boise State President Bob Kustra said. "Though we mourn John Barnes' death, we celebrate his legacy through the bold and thriving campus his vision helped create."

Barnes was inducted into the Boise State Hall of Fame in 1998 for his work boosting the school's athletic programs. He played a role in the school joining the Big Sky Conference and helped start the Bronco Athletic Association. He also began work on the Boise State Pavilion, now called Taco Bell Arena. Towers Hall, the residence halls built during his tenure, now bear his name.

Barnes also started Science Competition Day, which encourages high school students to explore math and science.

He was born in Texarkana, Texas, and grew up in the South.

Barnes' wife, Shirley, died in 2010. He is survived by daughters Brandee Lynn Meissner and Rebecca Kay Wallace; two grandchildren, Robin Brown, and Scott Meissner Jr.; and a sister, Mollie Belle Cooke of Iowa, La.

In accordance with Barnes' wishes, there will not be a service.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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