Before Dan Barnett “retired” for the fourth and final time, he made sure his work would continue even after he was buried.
Barnett penned his own obituary asking that memorials be provided to the Bloomington Noon Rotary Club Foundation’s Strive program to help students attend Normandale Community College, where he had worked for 26 years.
“This combines two of Dan’s loves: Normandale and Rotary,” he wrote. “Dan hoped that his legacy would be that he made a difference, that he left the world a better place than he found it.”
Barnett died Aug. 17 at his home in Bonita Springs, Fla. He was 82.
“He just wore out,” said his wife of 53 years, Mary Lou Barnett, a nurse.
Dan Barnett worked 47 years as an educator, including his “signature experience” at Normandale, where he retired as a vice president. He then worked eight years as a professor of education at St. Mary’s University. He retired again, but soon got called back to teach a leadership course. Seven years later, he retired yet again.
Larry Kuusisto was working at Northwestern Health Sciences University when he met Barnett in the 1980s and asked him for help developing a curriculum to train chiropractic assistants. “He knew everybody, and because he was such a likable person and he was so trustworthy, getting through committees and all that stuff was a breeze,” Kuusisto said.
“He always brings a smile whenever I think of Dan Barnett.”
Outside of work, Barnett dedicated his time to serving others, primarily through the Rotary Club, where he had perfect attendance for 37 years. He held every office in the Bloomington club and served as governor for more than 60 clubs in the Rotary district comprised of the Twin Cities and western and southern Minnesota.
Glenna Case was a member of the Minneapolis Uptown Rotary Club when she met Barnett. She said he coached her to consider more ambitious projects. “He was like a servant-leader,” she recalled.
Barnett participated in more than 200 Rotary projects in developing countries. He also served on a number of other service groups and was a Community Emergency Response Team captain in Bonita Springs.
Barnett grew up in Ruthven, Iowa. He graduated from St. John’s University and got his master’s degree from St. Cloud State University and his doctorate in education leadership from the University of Minnesota.
He met his wife through his sister, Jean Barnett Watts, when the women were college roommates. Mary Lou Barnett said her husband always stayed active. “We were both dancers when I met him,” she said. “He got real serious about it, oh gosh, about 30 years ago” and eventually started entering ballroom dance competitions.
Jill Ableman Johnson, his former dance instructor in the Twin Cities, said he took several lessons a week for years. He also ran marathons and cycled until spinal stenosis in his neck and lower back caused too much pain. Even so, he managed to keep dancing.
Marcia Barrett, his instructor in Naples, Fla., said that at his last contest in 2015, the United States Dance Championships, Barnett won five first-place and four second-place medals. “Sometimes it was hard because of his back issues, but he did it as much as he could because it meant so much to him,” she said. “He lived to dance.”
In addition to his wife, Barnett is survived by daughters Erin Barnett Mannas of San Jose, Calif., and Tara Barnett Maher of Winnetka, Ill., and four grandchildren. A memorial is planned for Nov. 11 in Naples.