Friday, November 28, 2014

Seahawk Love: Creating a Legacy

Each step you take on UNCW’s campus showcases evidence of the generations of Seahawks who have created the student experience that the university provides today. When George Barnes ’82 remembers his own student days, he often thinks of his daily bike ride from his home off Rose Avenue.

In contrast to many students in their late teens and early 20s, Barnes shared his home with his bride, Leonora Barnes ’80. She completed her nursing degree prior to his attending UNCW. After his graduation, the couple used their education to propel their careers, giving them opportunities to move across the nation.

“I was really good at taking poor performing places and making them good,” recalls Barnes, a retired utility plant operations executive. It’s been four years since he’s worked, and his team’s record-breaking performance still hasn’t been matched.

The Cameron School of Business graduate quotes many professors on his path to success, and he recounts the text from tattered text-book pages that have helped shape his management style. His decades of experience could easily fill a book themselves, and it’s been more than once that he’s been asked to teach others what he knows.

However, Barnes prefers to give back and support our next generation in another way – a way that honors the woman who captured his heart and continues to hold it tight. The Wilmington Society member has created a legacy for Leonora at UNCW that echoes her passion.

“She was the most caring person I have ever known,” he said about Leonora, who passed away in May 2014.

George Barnes '82 shares memories and his plan for a new nursing scholarship.

Sitting across from Barnes, who has managed billion-dollar operations in the highly regulated utility industry, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with pride by his accomplishments. But when his face brightens talking about Leonora’s generous nature, it’s obvious who he’s most proud of.

He shares memories about Leonora, especially how she was always looking for a way to lend a hand to help others. She got a lot of personal satisfaction out of it, he says, and it’s likely the reason she pursued a degree in nursing at UNCW. “She did a lot. She always gravitated towards things that helped people,” Barnes recalls.

When asked if Leonora learned her hard-working ethic from his example, Barnes laughs and admits that influence is likely from her mother. He also remembers her devotion to their son Alex, and her willingness to pass up executive trips to take care of him, even personal tours of Germany, Leonora’s native country.

Now, she’s the reason that George is creating a new scholarship for nursing students. 

The new, endowed scholarship will provide $4,000 annually to a high-achieving student in need. As Barnes hopes, it will provide the hands-on experiences that Leonora wanted to support in the nursing program.

“The gift will allow our School of Nursing to recruit and retain an outstanding nursing student who will make a difference in the health and life quality of individuals, families and communities in southeastern North Carolina and beyond,” said Dr. Charles Hardy, Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Barnes has created a legacy for Leonora that will forever benefit nursing students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“They need it,” he says of the gift in his late wife’s honor. “They need it right now.”

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