MARION — Barbara Kirkby, 71, a retired Evart Elementary school teacher living in Marion, died Wednesday after a short illness at the Fred Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids.
Barb, born in 1941, the first child of Pete and Gertrude Bontekoe, began life on their farm north of Marion. She thrived on rural living as their dairy farm prospered. In the 1950s Barb and her sister, Beverly, were often featured in Holstein publications for their work with cattle, 4-H and dairy cattle showmanship.
In 1959 she traveled to Germany as an exchange student, staying in contact with her host German family. She also spent time with family in the Netherlands. She enrolled at Central Michigan University on an academic scholarship in 1959, graduating in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a minor in home economics.
Barb began teaching at the Bath Community Schools in 1963, continuing to teach fourth graders at the new Lansing Post Oak Elementary in 1965 under the direction of Dr. Olivia Letts, who gave insight and positive direction in being an outstanding teacher. While at the Post Oak School, Barb introduced school camping with the fourth grade classes at the Yankee Springs Recreation Area near Hastings. She retired from teaching after 25 years in 2005, having taught the last 18 years in the Evart third grade.
In 1967 Barb became co-founder of Kirkby Manufacturing. Barb called the 26 years they were in business a financial disaster that built strong character. She ran for the Marion School Board in 1971, serving for 31 years, the longest of any woman in the school’s history. Jerry Schwartz, the longest serving superintendent in the school’s history, was hired while she was on the board. She also served 16 years on the Wexford - Missaukee Intermediate School District during a time of rapid expansion under the direction of Sherm Martin and Bill Penny. She retired from that board in 1995, months before having open heart surgery to place two mechanical heart valves in February 1996.