Ed Barnes didn’t come with a canned speech, but he still had plenty to say.
“It was one heck of a surprise,” the 2019 Clark County First Citizen said during a Thursday reception in his honor at WareHouse ’23 on the Vancouver waterfront. “People have dreams all their lives. And I never dreamed I would become First Citizen of Clark County.”
Once Barnes had dispensed with pleasantries, he got down to the issues he cares about, firing them off one after another before more than 200 people in attendance.
He praising organized labor, advocated for replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge, solicited contributions to build The Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and welcomed the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to the community.
Barnes, an 85-year-old retired business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, called the IBEW “the greatest union in the world.”
During World War II, when thousands worked at Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver and Portland, the union had 2,100 members in the region, Barnes said. When the war ended and the shipyards shut down, the running joke was that the last person left in town should turn out the lights, he said.
“Well, the lights are still on,” he said.
Barnes paid tribute to his wife LuAnne and recounted what the man who married them said following their wedding.
“He gave me the word,” he said. ” ‘If you ever do anything to hurt LuAnne, I will come and kill you.’ And 64 years later, I am still with LuAnne. I don’t want to die.”
Barnes has never shied away from saying what he thinks. With his affable demeanor and trademark feistiness, Barnes fiercely advocates for his views, going as far as to ring a hand bell at Clark County Council meetings as he implored the community to “Wake up!” and vote in an upcoming election.
He was a steadfast support of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and its long struggle to build what became the ilani casino west of La Center, at a time when many elected officials were opposing the project and vowing to fight it in court. He also was an unrelenting advocate for the Columbia River Crossing, at a time when others were objecting to tolling, light rail and the project’s $3 billion-plus price tag.
Barnes, who spent 12 years on the Washington State Transportation Commission, made two requests to those gathered at WareHouse ’23. He urged everyone to call Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on the I-5 Bridge.
“We need to replace the I-5 Bridge now,” he said. “And we need to build that bridge so it’s ready so light rail can go all the way to La Center.”
Barnes, a Korean War veteran, also asked the audience to contribute to The Wall of Remembrance for the 36,574 Americans who died in what is often called “The Forgotten War.”
“These names will never be forgotten,” he said.
Barnes did not neglect to thank his family: three sons, seven grandchildren and his first great-granddaughter 7-month-old Eleanor Arriola, who was named after Eleanor Roosevelt.
With that, Barnes was ready to sit down. That was until Jennifer Rhoads, president of The Community Foundation, stepped onto the stage.
“Do you want to ask for anything else since you have a captive audience?” Rhoads said.
Barnes needed no additional encouragement.
With both hands, he pulled his sports jacket open to show a 50-year-old Alcoa Little League T-shirt he wore to the event.
Barnes said he was Alcoa Little League president for 13 years. Ray Hickey, the former owner of Vancouver-based Tidewater Barge Lines who died in 2010, was the league’s vice president.
A March 27 fire destroyed the Alcoa Little League score tower and all of its contents behind Fort Vancouver High School. The league used the score tower to store equipment and decades of photos and mementos from one of the oldest Little Leagues in Southwest Washington.
Barnes urged people to open their checkbooks.
“Alcoa right now needs a place to play ball,” he said.
Organizers of Thursday’s event had one final tribute. Tami Nesburg, senior vice president and regional banking manager for Pacific Premier Bank, presented Barnes with a $1,000 contribution for The Wall of Remembrance.
The annual First Citizen award dates back to 1939, when former Vancouver City Attorney George Simpson was selected. A First Citizen has been named every year except in 1989, 2002 and 2018, all described as “transition years” by The Community Foundation.
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, along with previous First Citizen recipients Sally Schaefer, her husband Robert Schaefer, and former state Sen. Al Bauer, nominated Barnes for the 2019 award.