Janie Hequembourg Barker, the 1944 Sagamore Queen at Southeast Missouri State Teachers’ College, the forerunner to Southeast Missouri State University, is returning to serve as the 2017 Homecoming Parade Marshal on Oct. 14.
A Charleston, Missouri, native now living in Jacksonville, Florida, Barker is excited to visit campus, attend the football game and ride in the parade. It begins at 9:30 a.m. at Capaha Park and travels east on Broadway to Main Street and then south on Main Street.
“I’m very honored and appreciative of it,” Barker said.
Barker is a 1944 graduate of Southeast, earning a Bachelor of Science in Education, with a major in elementary education. At 93, Barker is the oldest living Sagamore Queen.
To elect a queen, nominees were selected by sororities and the faculty made the final selection with input from students. Barker was coronated at the formal Sagamore Ball in the spring. Barker thinks she was selected because she was outgoing, vivacious and friendly.
“I was just floored. I could not believe how I was chosen from all these people,” she said.
As the Sagamore Queen, she visited communities throughout southeast Missouri that were struggling during World War II.
“They would send us to do little programs and try to promote the area that was having a hard time during the war,” Barker said. “We felt like we were doing a service.”
Barker attended Southeast during a very exciting time. She came from a small town affected by the Great Depression to a college campus impacted by the war. Her father and siblings went to college, but she was the only one to go to Southeast. She felt fortunate to go to school and college during the Depression.
“I feel like as I look back on my education, I was so privileged,” she said. “When I first started my freshman year until I finished my senior year, our whole country had changed.”
Barker was coronated as the 1944 Sagamore Queen during the Sagamore Ball (page from Southeast’s former yearbook).
The residence halls were used to board Navy servicemen, displacing female students. The women were taken in by various families in town. Barker lived with five other women on the top floor of the home of a local family.
Barker’s favorite professor was Dr. Vest Cleveland Myers, dean of the College. He took her to rural schools to present a paper she wrote on the effect of seating charts on student interaction. She also helped teachers who didn’t have degrees or specialized training.
She said she enjoyed participating in campus life. She was a member of Sorosis and the Black Mask Dramatic Society. She was involved with the Baptist Student Union, at one point serving as its president. She also frequented sporting events and dances.
“Everybody danced, even at lunch,” Barker said. “We had so many dances and different sororities and clubs and had orchestras. That was quite the thing to do.”
She loved going to local hangouts like the Colonial Tavern and Sunny Hill Dairy, which offered Cokes, milkshakes and a big area for dancing.
“It was the days when we only had one or two places to go get a Coke when you had a date,” Barker said. “When this place opened, they made a big area where you could come in and dance at a nickelodeon. During the Depression, you wanted to make sure your date had enough nickels to dance, and you, of course, wanted to buy a Coke or something.”
She met Rev. Dr. Lloyd Barker, a 1942 Southeast alumnus, while he was working at the Cape Girardeau’s First Baptist Church, now the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center. They married after she graduated in 1944.
She will attend the All-Alumni Breakfast at 7 a.m. Oct. 14 at the Wehking Alumni Center.
“I’ll feel like I’m right at home because I know every inch of that building,” Barker said.
During and after the war, Dr. Barker served as a chaplain for the U.S. Army, and they were stationed at many bases throughout Europe. Also during this time, Barker and her husband assisted the Baptist World Alliance by participating in missions. European schools admired American universities and frequently asked her to share her skills and techniques.
“It just constantly amazed me, being a country girl from a little bitty town,” Barker said. “I was always proud of Cape. Southeast was a good school, but to be at so many places across the country and Europe, and they would say to me, could I talk to their teachers – it really took me off my feet.”
Upon return from Europe, Barker found that there was a shortage of teachers because many servicemen didn’t return home or didn’t want to return to education.
“I was an elementary teacher, but I taught everything up to high school,” she said.
While living in Memphis, Tennessee, during the Civil Rights era, there was a shortage of teachers willing to teach in the inner city. Barker was teaching in an affluent area and volunteered to transfer to an inner city school. She loved working with the students and remained until retirement in the 1980s.
Barker would often miss car pools to stay with students and tutor them after school. She said she and other teachers always brought extra school supplies, food and money to ensure their students didn’t go without.
She lived and taught in five states during her career, including North Carolina and Texas. The training she received at Southeast made her stand out from her peers. The principal of her hometown high school even asked her to return to teach his faculty.
She says that teaching was her calling. Along with elementary education and helping other teachers, she taught Sunday school and spent summers teaching vacation Bible schools.
“If you love children, you’ll love teaching,” Barker said.
“I can’t say enough about SEMO. I realized what a wonderful education I got right here,” Barker said. “They often asked me to teach the teachers what I knew. The principal would call me in and say, ‘Jane, would you talk to my teachers and show them how you make your lessons plans? I want them to teach like you do.’”
Barker will be attending the Homecoming football game at 1 p.m. Oct. 14 against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles with 16 family members coming from all over the country. She is excited to once again cheer on her alma mater at Houck Field.