Happy Birthday to Burien resident Barney Wilcox, who turns 100 Sunday!


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By Cydney Moore

On Feb. 4th, 1918, Barnard Oren Wilcox was born to parents Isabel and James in a hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Isabel was rushed to the delivery room in an electric car at a top speed of around 15 mph, and shortly thereafter gave birth to their new son.

This Sunday, Barney – a longtime resident of the City of Burien – will be celebrating his 100th birthday.

Barney grew up in the town of Wyandotte, Michigan, just a few miles outside Detroit. His father, James, worked as an architectural engineer for Henry Ford for several years, and would come home regaling his family with stories from the plant – of Ford walking around the office carrying an axe, chopping up the desks of employees who were being let go, or of James and other workers sneaking into Ford’s private cafeteria for lunch.

Growing up, Barney had a penchant for getting into mischief. In high school, he liked to skip class in favor of finding his own adventures – like when he and his friends came across a locomotive sitting on the train tracks in town, and decided to take it joyriding. One time, on a family trip to California, he wandered across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was still under construction, and absentmindedly stepped into an uncovered manhole. Thankfully, he managed to catch himself on the edge and pull himself up before he fell to the water below, but he still remembers dangling there, hanging over the expanse.

After high school, Barney attended college at Michigan Technical University (he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering). Around this time, he took a few nutrition courses from a traveling lecturer, which changed his life immensely – after that, he says, he never caught another cold. Barney attributes his health largely to his diet; he recommends “eating for color” – eggplant, pumpkin, peas, green beans, carrots, beets, yogurt, dates, and nuts are all on his list of favorable foods. One thing he absolutely avoids, however, is white flour. He strictly sticks to whole grain bread, and avoids any foods – noodles, crackers, etc. – made with white flour.

In addition to his focus on nutrition, he has also been a major anti-smoking advocate for the better part of his life. Barney lobbied to establish restrictions on smoking in public places, and was successful in doing so for a number of locations, including the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle, as well as several police stations across the Puget Sound area.

He moved to Washington in 1964 with his wife Ida (they were married in 1945), and spent the first 9 months living in South Park, then bought a house here in Burien on Des Moines Memorial Drive. He paid $16,000 for the house, and, years later, sold the property for $240,000.

Barney spent several years volunteering with doctors all around the country, including at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He was actively involved in cancer research, and witnessed the breakthroughs in science that uncovered the role nutrition plays in treatment for such diseases. He also spent several years working at Boeing as an aeronautical engineer. The time he recalls as his happiest, though, is when he worked with troubled youth in the King County court system. Barney would take kids with behavioral issues or difficult home lives out and spend time with them, teaching them to garden (one of his lifelong passions), or playing at the park; he remembers spending hours on the swing sets, and the biggest takeaway he offers from his experience is that, “In all my years, I’ve never seen a bad kid. There’s no such thing as a bad child.”

Nowadays, Barney likes to relax at home and watch Animal Planet. His favorite show is Tanked, and he says if he could do it all over again, he would have liked to spend time studying fish, as he finds them fascinating. After all this time, he still recounts with a vivid memory when he bought his first car in 1936 (and paid only $10 for it), when he would see billboards around town advertising Wonder Bread for 12 cents a loaf, and when the Smith Tower was the tallest building in Seattle. He has retained a wonderful sense of humor, and chuckles at the escapades of his youth, remarking fondly on the good times, and expressing a sense of contentment we all can only hope to experience at that age.

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