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Wingo the Great


WINGO THE GREAT

By Lois Barrett

A name plate on Barbara Wingo’s desk in a fenced-in haven in Harrisburg bears the title of “Wingo the Great.”  Surely the nameplate connotation has carried her through the years as a women’s and children’s advocate for safety in seven counties wearing the name of Anna Bixby Center. Bixby was a battered woman of Hardin County who survived attempted murder at the hands of her abusive husband. She lived years after, dying  in 1870. Her  name was chosen for the project.

Most would not have called Barbara Wingo great when she began a movement to protect women and children in Rosiclare in 1979. She was branded a home-wrecker, bra-burning feminist,  called an anti-Christ, and there was the ever-present denial of abuse in the towns, though some of them were abusers themselves.“ Males raped their daughters and beat their women,” Wingo said. Husbands threatened her and her family. “Churches threatened me,” she stated.

When she held a meeting for local social service providers, only two, from other counties, were present. This was a far cry from the more than 100 representatives who showed for a meeting in 2002, and included influential members of the community, legislators, and judges. Today abusers are prosecuted.

Wingo, founder and director of the Anna Bixby Center, began the project in her own home as an incorporated non-profit, tax exempt organization after she began working at the local hospital and could see that women who came in were battered. “The abuser would be standing outside,” she said. “The women would say they were in a car wreck.”

The trigger for Wingo to set the project in motion came when “One day I was working the emergency room and an 80-year-old woman with a triple-sized head came in. Her 40-year-old son had beaten her, but she was worried what would happen to him, rather than herself. Who would fix his dinner?”

She was supported by Barbara Bakke and a donation of $2,000 to open the doors in 1979 to the first battered woman. She was aided by Nora Baldwin, also a battered woman, who became the first board president. Wingo’s mother, Irene Downey, was the first secretary-treasurer of the board.

Wingo saw a need, but desired to study and figure out for herself what was happening.  She read everything she could. She also studied at the Carbondale Women’s Center.

From that meager beginning, where she utilized the bottom floor of her “flood house” in Rosiclare for offices to aid battered women and children, the movement has progressed to seven counties: Saline, Pope, Hardin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Johnson, and White. The center was aided with a $10,000 grant from the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1980.

In the beginning she operated on a shoestring, but assisted about 25 women the first year. The organization picked up counties by demand, word of mouth, and last year alone had about one thousand women and children assisted. In 1985 the move to Harrisburg came about due to the danger and effect on herself and her children.

“It was very dangerous when we first started,” she pointed out, “nobody believed violence was in Southern Illinois, and the children were being affected. There was a negative connotation, with males raping daughters, beating women, and churches preaching against me. In comparison, it is completely different now, with churches supporting us along with the police, everybody.”

The average for all battered women to stay in the program was about fourteen percent, Wingo said, but some were able to hang in longer and work their way through. The return rate to husbands got lower and lower over the years.

“The worst thing that happened was that one battered woman died,” Wingo said, “and another woman shot her husband when she couldn’t take any more abuse. He didn’t die, but she spent time in jail.”

“The center has experienced a multitude of successes,” Wingo said, “some as small as when a woman comes in, beaten down, children depressed. But, within a couple of days, they no longer cry, they play better and the women develop self-esteem and power. Some women have gone on to become CNAs, some to obtain college degrees.”

The center located in Harrisburg is no longer a home as such. It is for emergency assistance only and the women and children are housed elsewhere in the spirit of safety and transition.

The oldest woman assisted was 93, and the youngest, 18. Below eighteen, for instance, fifteen- year-olds can only get about five hours service without parental involvement.

“Volunteers are needed, and as many as are willing to work at the center who have an idea of what they’d like to do,” Wingo said. “If they work here, they get forty hours training. They have to sign confidentiality forms, and they must care.”

Diane Taborn, one of about 29 employees, is the Community Resources Person, and Michelle Hughes, also an employee, is the Children’s Advocate. Wingo is “weaning herself away” from the main thrust of the programs, transferring activities to others, she said. Her daughter, Terry Eichorn, is Assistant Director. However, Wingo is very much involved in the biggest project they have undertaken, a new complex to house all the programs and needs of the Anna Bixby Center.

The Center needs money soon, $40,000 to be exact, to buy property for the next big move. They have had to move three times in Harrisburg, and have again outgrown themselves. The planned move is to the corner of Veterans Drive and Small Street, a move which could increase the number of employees to thirty-five. A Mini Mall is planned for the property facing Small Street to rent out for additional funding. The complex will include The Willow, a state of the art beauty salon.

The First Annual Festival, Seven Windows – One View, a fund-raiser, is being held August 18th and 19th at the Saline County Fairgrounds. It will be filled with at least 23 events, beginning at noon on Friday the 18th, and ending after 8 p.m. on the 19th. Entertainment will feature country singer Rhonda Belford, and including the Kornbread Junction Gang, with Flo Dunning and Phil Morris.

Saturday, the 19th, a prayer breakfast starts the day and ongoing events fill in the morning and afternoon.  Entertainment Saturday begins at 7 p.m. following other events designed to interest children and adults. Quilts are being bid on, one donated by the Busy Hands Quilt Club, hand-quilted by the Golden Circle Ladies and featuring pictures drawn by Anna-Bixby Children. Another quilt is supplied by the Union Social Brethren Church of Hardin County, with a log-cabin theme. A third quilt is county-oriented, featuring courthouses. Many sponsors are supporting the fund-raiser.

The Center Services include a 24-hour hotline, safe homes, transportation, counseling, advocacy, children’s program, education and employment.

For further information, visit the center’s web site: www.annabixby.com. To visit the center, there is a sign which reads “Women may enter, Men must knock.” The telephone number is 618-252-8380, Harrisburg, 618-384-2003, Carmi. There is a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-421-8456.

 

Lady M

Michelle Hughes, Children’s Advocate at Anna Bixby Center, came there in her early twenties, full of anger, scared, hot-tempered and quarrelsome, a victim of abuse. Her signature was “X” but she wasn’t treated like an “X.” It was understood that her anger came from pain. They listened to the person behind the signature. Michelle learned she didn’t have to get permission to take a walk or smoke.

Barbara Wingo never gave up on Michelle and she learned to not give up on herself. Gradually pulling her life together, with the assistance of the staff, she felt safe. After awhile she dropped “X” for a new name, “Lady M.”

First step was to earn a GED, working at the center part time and later in 2002 worked full time while finishing an associate’s degree at Southeastern Illinois College. Her goal was to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University to launch a career in human service counseling. She also desired to finish a her book titled “Lady M.”

Michelle is not afraid any longer and does not have to hide behind any Xs or Ms. She’s proud of her survival from domestic abuse.

Second Act

SECOND ACT FOR LOIS BARRETT

Early retirement at age 55 in 1991from a traveling, teaching position with the State of Illinois, newly married to a Texas man , this great-grandmother, Lois Barrett Billings, by 2003 lived in a strange area, depressed, unfulfilled, emotionally and physically sick.

Memories of days as a reporter, photographer, columnist, reasonably known as a person of public involvement and as a state employee traveling over 30,000 miles a year, blocked my mind to enjoying a new husband and life.

I attended a tax preparation program in 1992 which filled my life off and on in the Spring for nine years, but there was always a restless feeling deep inside. Dreams of becoming an author had only been fulfilled with news media, non-fiction magazine articles and anthology-published poetry. Health declined and despair led to a self-pitying couch potato, and I laid down to die to the point of calling my  home state to inquire about funeral arrangements.

One such black day, a sudden memory of a manuscript begun at age eighteen complete with outline, characters,  plot, and stored in a boot box brought to Texas from Illinois for “someday.”.  It was to be my “Great American Novel,” but distractions of marriage- children- career prevented the completion. Reporter-minded, I wrote non-fiction putting away fiction for another time.

Obsession with the project grabbed me.  Putting all else aside, in a burst of energy I worked day and night until a rough draft of a historical fiction adventure set in the early 1800’s– of what was to become Southern Illinois– was completed. Following a year of haunting libraries,  editing, rewriting, fleshing out, formatting and completion, endless mailings to publishers, agents, rejections, and over-all frustration took much time. At age sixty-eight, there wasn’t enough time with my deteriorating  physical condition to travel these avenues. I felt desperate to be published before death. It was a new dream, a reason for living. I adopted a new name:  Lois Fowler Barrett.

Convincing my husband in 2004 to leave Texas and return with me to Illinois where I believed better contacts could be made, I set about aligning myself with writers groups, attending lectures, haunting the libraries and listening to experts. One such expert, a self-publisher, revealed the strategy of setting up a publishing company, copy writing, ISBNs from The Library of Congress, but best of all, a published book.

Bowker, the avenue for ISBNs, became a name I grew familiar with, setting up the project in record time. Fellow writers expressed surprise at the speedy publication. They had only met me a few months earlier and I had established a company–Brick Hill Publishing–with my first novel When the Earthquakes Spoke ready for sale.

This novel– this “thing,”– had to be the one project completed in a life of noncommital leanings. Success in selling at a local Arts and Crafts Festival filled me with renewed desire to become known as a respected novelist, not just a reporter, a short-story writer, a poet.

Marketing, advertising, joining agencies of benefit, setting up a web page, all filled the days. Local news plugged my book, and I was off and running and running and running.  Future sales evolved in bookings and all the trappings of extolling the virtues of the novel, lifting me to a new level.

My second act was on-going: but in 2005 illness disrupted the plans. Bedridden, house-trapped, drowning in cabin-fever, cancelling meetings and book-signing obligations, to say I became depressed was an understatement. I took to the couch once more. Hospitalized again in early 2006, I vowed to never write again.

Lo and behold, a self-publication contest judge for Writers Digest gave a good report on the submitted novel I had forgotten and encouraged me to continue! This brought a discouraged great-grandmother back to the computer and Preacher’s Son & Henry Brown, a follow-up of the first novel, was birthed to be published in January 2007. This was followed by There Oughta Be A Law, a murder mystery set in Texas, published in May, 2007. I gave up tax preparation.

While doing research in Texas, a contact with  Hastings Book Store in Victoria, Texas led to two shelf stockings as they began selling all three novels. This led South Central Texas libraries, Southern Illinois libraries, area book stores and others to stock the books and once again I was off and running.

However–illness struck again. Back-to-back surgeries occupied late Summer of 2007 and at age seventy-two my mind was desperately seeking to remember simple words. I couldn’t think of writing properly, thus to the couch again, sure my new career was over. Recuperating became the only drive in life. September of 2007 blanked out.

Lo and behold, in late October, the Nov/Dec 2007 SATURDAY EVENING POST arrived!

On page 38, Second Acts by Andrea Neal slapped me into action. The article caused me to realize life hadn’t ended at age 68, nor at 72, and the second act ongoing. Whether this “second act journey” is accepted for publication or not is less important than the fact I sat down at the computer and began writing again.

The Little League Manager

As featured in Springhouse Magazine

The spring of 1986 was no different for a “youngster” of 80 in Harrisburg, Illinois than it had been for the last twenty years of his life. Charles “Dee” Barrett was ready for the umpire’s call: “Play Ball!”

He would begin getting ready, as he did every year about that time, when the big leagues were swapping players and cutting deals for the next season. Although the Golden Years of a man’s life should have been filled with the three “R’s”: retirement, rest and relation, Barrett didn’t know it.

To him, it was more like B, P and W: baseball, politics, and work; plus the added attraction of extra-curricular activities – not necessarily in that order.

At this time of year, it was time to worry about pitchers, always a scarcity in Khoury League circles for the 11 and 12 year olds. Since 1965, Barrett had worked with the youngsters and felt like one of the crowd. He wasn’t much taller, if any, than most of his “boys.” He might have possibly been the oldest Khoury League manager around. To hear him tell the story, he was at one time the most feared.

Be that as it may, baseball was Barrett’s number one hobby in Spring. He thought anything initiated later than February was off to a poor start, and started talking up league meetings. By March, he was ready, but try outs were held up until April, exasperating the veteran warrior of little league. He was a hard taskmaster, critical and often heard to yell, not only at the boys, but umpires as well.

“Whaddaya mean, swinging at that one? It was way over your head. Come on, you know better than that!” he would bite. Sometimes it made the boys mad enough to begin a hitting streak.

It was no surprise when he yelled: “Hey Ump! Where’s the strike zone tonight?”

Barrett trained the boys hard and often, expecting and usually getting hard work out of them. Added to that the parents who were hardy and handy enough were called on to coach, umpire a base, or whatever was needed.

Barrett was slow to laud the good plays, but on one was prouder of the boys. He daily scanned the news for development of the lives he had touched, however briefly. He proudly pointed out any accomplishments, whatever field of endeavor they were involved in.

Twenty years of managing teams led to earlier years players sometimes presenting their sons to try out with Dee Barrett’s team. Young men and boys yelled out “Dee!” on the streets, and he turned to see if it was one of his boys.

The reputation Barrett built with at least eight championship material teams followed him. In the last years, his wins had been fewer, partially because it was more important to him then to train the boys for the future.

The stocky-built eighty-year-old admitted he always found it hard to cull the not-so-good players, sometimes keeping the limit of 15 on his team. He bemoaned the fact that there were fewer teams available now for the boys–and girls–because younger men with families were hard to recruit as managers and coaches.

If Barrett had gotten his way, every boy and girl would have played baseball or at least softball in the Summer, and he would have liked to see a city league formed to “let ‘em all play.” It was often that he bought gloves, shoes and shirts for the lesser income kids.

Barrett’s baseball hobby began–most serious to him–began in early boyhood as a sandlot pitcher and shortstop in 1918 in Southern Illinois. He was quick to remember great opposition pitchers in a neighboring town in the Thirties, and coaching Kiwanis League baseball, umpiring some.

He played in Michigan as a young married man where he worked in factories before, during and after WW II. After trying unsuccessfully to enlist–thick glasses were his bane–Barrett returned to his home town in Harrisburg, Illinois as a plasterer and lathing contractor until his first retirement.

A twenty year stint in little league managing began in 1965 at age 60. It was a passion that had not lessened prior to his death at age 84. Having come close to a championship playoff in 1983–losing out by a throw-away ball to first–disappointment wrapped him in discouragement and he decided he might be getting old; to old to help the boys any longer. He dropped out of managing for a season but kept a foot in the door as treasurer of the league plus unofficial, unappointed watchdog.

Barrett was encourage later by his second wife who had spent six hot summers at the fields to “get back in the game.” That year a downhill slide of the number of teams playing and lost managers was too much to bear. The beloved sport was losing supporters.

Barrett fired back in support in 1985 by again managing a team. One such year, the season was almost over before he discovered his shortstop was indeed a short-haired girl. He couldn’t believe her name wasn’t Steven. She was good, he had to admit to his wife.

He was unsuccessful in pushing for an increase in the number of teams, but was happier not sitting on the sidelines.

In addition to the main hobby of baseball, there was Barrett’s year-round group of the “Dee Barrett Singers.” At the drop of a hat, or more realistically, the ring of the telephone he could be convinced to engage his group of gospel singers without a negative thought.

“Sure, we’ll be there if we can get together,” he would promise, and then ordered all of the singers into action. He would sing one of his compositions–the only one set to music–with little or no coaxing. He had written poetry during his high school days.

Besides full time employment as custodian of a three-story Baptist church in his home town “since retirement at age 62” Barrett was street and alley commissioner of his beloved city; Saline County secretary-treasurer of his chosen political party, and a precinct committeeman of some 34 years.

Every upcoming March primary would find Barrett campaigning for himself for the precinct position, or a candidate for something else. Added to this he would be campaigning for everyone he promised assistance. However, baseball would remain his time-consuming project.

Few days or nights found the untiring man at home. In addition to council meetings, regular and special he attended Odd Fellows Lodge faithfully, and all church functions requiring the custodian on the scene. There were political meetings, senior citizen council, Khoury League meetings, singing practice, and some Sunday afternoon union meetings. He was the Local president of the Cement Masons and Plasterers.

If nothing else was on the agenda he might ask his 50-year-old travel-worn, just-got-home-from-work wife: “Is there a dance somewhere at the senior citizens’ center? We ought to go.” She often crumpled inside but never fainted.

Of course, relatives must be visited occasionally and there were Christmas parties, fund-raisers, picnics, a never-ending list. On their honeymoon in Italy in 1979, his young wife of forty-three gave up attempting to keep up with him and he strolled the streets alone stopping people “if anyone spoke American.” To his credit, but to his new wife’s dismay, he refused use of the elevator to their fifth-floor room.

This youngster was born Charles Deneen Barrett, named after Governor Charles Deneen of Illinois. He was born and raised in southern Illinois. Barrett graduated from Harrisburg

High in 1924 with honors in shorthand and typing accompanied by a passion for sports. He toyed with the idea of professional boxing during teen years.

“I was good at it, but Mom talked me out of it,” he often said., “but I wasn’t silly enough to keep it up.”

It seemed a big boxer twice his size scared him into leaving the ring after a few hits. He also worked sixteen hours a day for a local ice company–the days of horse-drawn ice-wagons–to help support his four sisters and parents.

Barrett retire? Rest? Relax? Not for that senior citizen. The Golden Years were but a part of his zest for life, and he expected to live to be at least 103; “killed by a jealous husband” when he danced with the man’s wife.

At age 84, paralyzing strokes following his oldest step-daughter’s death took a toll and he succumbed while believing he would someday soon step out of the dugout and manage another team. He died quietly, no pain, just murmuring “something’s awful wrong” as he grabbed his chest with the good left arm.

But–his wife could hear God softly whisper: “Let’s play ball, Dee.”

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