Discovery museum

Betty Barker, co-founder of the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert dies


Betty Macpherson Barker, co-founder of the Children’s Discovery Museum and co-chair of the fundraising campaign for the Palm Desert Campus at California State University at San Bernardino, died Nov. 16 in Lake Forest. She was 99 years old.

Barker was born in Philadelphia and attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where she majored in political science. She then leads an eclectic and accomplished professional life.

She has worked in Chicago and New York on national and international projects in the field of industrial design, innovating in a field dominated by men. Among his accomplishments were the 1960s space planning for the Federal Aviation Agency building in Washington, DC, and the World Trade Center lobbies in Manhattan. She then did design work for Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Barker and her husband, Greg Barker, were among the original owners of the Chicago Bulls; they co-owned the basketball team for a decade, starting in 1966. She was a model for Clairol, then a model for Beau James. She also had her own cosmetic retail business.

Betty Barker, second from left, was honored in 2007 at the Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert gala.  Along with here were President Randal Miller, Executive Director Lee Anne Vanderbeck and Event President Debbi Hall.

In the mid-1970s, she retired to the desert and bought a house at the Marrakech Country Club. After a year of playing golf and tennis, Barker became restless, she told the Desert Sun in 2007. “I thought I was not worth the place I was taking,” she said. . “I needed to do something.

She got involved in charitable causes throughout the valley. She has served as Chair of the Palm Springs Desert Museum Women’s Committee and has held leadership positions with the Palm Springs Friends of the Philharmonic, the Desert Community Foundation, the Women’s Leadership Foundation, the Women Leaders Forum of the Coachella Valley, the Good Samaritans of the Desert and the Palm Springs International Film Festival. She was vice president of the Palm Springs chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.

In 1978, she opened an art and jewelry store, Serendipity, on El Paseo with her friend Beverly Mitchell. Barker had a long-standing interest in Asian jewelry and art, starting with his 30-year friendship with a Chinese family in Illinois who imported Chinese goods.

Betty Barker, front left, with Executive Director of the Children's Discovery Museum Lee Vanderbeck and some young visitors to the museum in 2004.

She was co-founder of the Children’s Discovery Museum, and has served as chair of the board from its inception. Barker, along with Dick Oliphant and Ambassador Walter Annenberg and Leonore Annenberg, raised millions of dollars to open the 8,000 square foot Rancho Mirage Museum in 1998.

Barker and Lee Annenberg had become friends in Philadelphia and reconnected when Barker moved to the wilderness. (In Philadelphia, mothers of women were friends, and that’s how Barker and Annenberg got to know each other, Oliphant recalls.)

“She was a remarkable woman. She belonged to that generation who believed that design could improve people’s lives. She was a true modernist in that sense, ”said Dan Kelley, architect of the Children’s Museum of the Desert. “He was an optimistic and modernist person. She believed that architecture and design could make life better.

Barker and Oliphant also co-chaired the fundraising campaign for the Palm Desert Campus at California State University at San Bernardino – the first state university campus built with private funds, and now a prototype for other collaborations between government and private organizations.

“Betty felt it was important that there were opportunities for children and families – whether young or college-aged,” said Lee Vanderbeck, who was the Children’s Museum’s first executive director. of the Desert. “Back then, there weren’t a lot of things for kids to do in the desert that were stimulating and educational.”

Many who knew Barker described her with words like ‘great’, ‘no frills’ and ‘motivated’. “Once Betty decided to get involved in something,” Vanderbeck said, “it was going to happen.”

Oliphant recalled that during the finishing ceremony of the first CSUSB Palm Desert building, he and Barker both gave speeches. As the sleepy summer months approached, the campaign was still $ 1 million short, Oliphant said.

Betty concluded her remarks by saying something like, ‘It would be really nice if someone came up to me and covered the remaining million dollars. I’ll be outside after the ice cream stand if you want to approach me, ”Oliphant recalled.

“We all thought it was pretty funny, but Ron Auen from the Berger Foundation walked up to her and said, ‘Betty, I’m going to give you the million dollars.’ “continued Oliphant. “Not everyone could do it, but Betty could.”

Along with her tireless efforts to garner support for CSUSB’s Palm Desert Campus, she has been a generous donor and the Betty Barker Sculpture Garden is named in her honor. When speaking at the opening of the Indian Wells Theater on the Palm Desert Campus, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy called Barker “Mrs. Money collector.

“She was a very avant-garde personality. She had opinions and ideas, and wanted to solve problems and get things done, ”Kelley recalls. “A dynamic type person who has made wonderful connections. She could bring together people and money to make things happen. She was smart in terms of navigating desert society.

In 2004, the last steel beam for the new Cal State San Bernardino Palm Desert campus building was hoisted into place.  Fred Jandt, dean of the school, Betty Barker, Dick Oliphant and Al Karnig, president of Cal State marked the milestone.

Other awards Barker has received include a Jefferson Award for Public Service; an Athena Award from Palm Desert; Outstanding Community Leader Award as Patron of Arts and Sciences of the Waring International Piano Competition; and an honorary doctorate in human letters from California State University.

Even in her 90s, she continued to be active. She served on the board of governors of Cal State San Bernardino and was responsible for organizing an acclaimed ethics forum on the CSUSB Palm Desert campus.

In Indian Wells, Barker had an eponymous street after donating $ 23,400 to the Desert Children’s Museum for naming rights. “If I wanted to live anywhere, I would definitely come to Indian Wells and live on my street,” Barker joked to The Desert Sun in 2003, after his street was unveiled.

Barker was a long-time Christian scientist and would get up in the morning, sit on her patio, read the Bible, and watch the sunrise. Barker had two sons.

In 2006, at age 87, she moved from Rancho Mirage to a small Christian Science community in Laguna Hills.

Julie Makinen is editor-in-chief of The Desert Sun. Ann Greer contributes to the Desert Scene section of The Desert Sun.