Larry Barton flies high for Janesville
Family: Wife Susan, son and daughter, four grandchildren.
Activities: Founder of the Morning Rotary Club; original member of the Reindeer Run, an informal winter fundraiser; regular participant in "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes," which raises money for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; board member of ECHO and member of the Janesville Police and Fire Commission.
He has been: Flying airplanes for 53 years, sneaking off for lessons in high school because his mother was afraid of flying. As an Angel Flight pilot, he donates time, money and his Beechcraft Bonanza to transport people with health care needs.
What you might not know about him: He was a JAG—Judge Advocate General—in the U.S. Marine Corps. He ran the Boston Marathon in 1991.
He likes to: Read. Fish. Work. Ski. He has played poker once a month with the same group of friends for 30 years.
Who he would invite to dinner: Jesus, author C.S. Lewis, his friend Bill Wynn.
Friends say he is: Compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, a man of humor, a leader. Plus, he looks great in heels.
He says he is: Impatient and outspoken. He hates being bored. He puts a premium on humor and loyalty. He believes in nonjudgment, the idea of justice and striving for the truth.
JANESVILLE He's got both the wings of an angel and wings of steel.
That's how Tammy Brenner sees Larry Barton, anyway.
"I don't know where he stepped out of, but he's definitely Devon's guardian angel," said Brenner, Devon Radloff's aunt.
Barton had volunteered as an Angel Flight pilot to take Devon to medical appointments. But something inside Barton spurred him to do more.
Barton has been mentoring Devon for about two years now and has developed a close relationship with the boy, who has cerebral palsy. Barton has expectations for Devon. He keeps the Craig High School junior on his toes about his grades and thinking about the future. He also just hangs out with Devon, teaching him woodworking and taking him flying.
The relationship has been life changing for Devon, who always has had an inner drive, his aunt said. Without Barton, college—and Devon's goal of becoming an airplane mechanic—wouldn't happen, she said.
Brenner cares for four children, three of whom are disabled, and she admits that she is sometimes overwhelmed.
To help, Barton suggested that Brenner, who is Devon's legal guardian, give him limited power of attorney so Barton can make appointments for Devon and do needed government paperwork.
Brenner is grateful because her nephew doesn't have a father figure.
"That friendship that they've got there, I think Devon's wanted that for so long," she said. "I think Devon could call him for anything in the world, and Larry would stop what he's doing and be there for him in a heartbeat."
Barton's friends say Barton has always been compassionate and involved.
But since he scaled back on his attorney work in 2002, Barton has focused on giving back to the community, said close friend Ron Ochs.
Barton devotes time every day for spiritual thinking and reading, trying to develop his own spirituality. He focuses on the importance of compassion and social justice.
But he doesn't just think about it.
"Intellectualizing these things is all fun and it's interesting and makes us sound very learned and important," Barton said. "But what really counts is doing something about it and putting it into action."
It was a spiritual calling that drew him to heed the concerns of Rock County judges and spearhead a mediation foreclosure program. As Barton listened to the judges talk, he felt something inside him say, "OK, you can do something to help," Barton recalled. "I don't know how to describe it."
The program has been a godsend for people who can't cut through the red tape to save their homes.
Barton began his spiritual journey at age 13 with a baptism in a tub of water, officiated by a Baptist minister wearing waders. Later, Barton embraced Catholicism. Today, he continues to search.
"It's really about a relationship with a God (and how) our actions and inactions affect people all around us," Barton said. "I decided to do what I can."
Barton, for instance, has been involved with ECHO and has been on its board since 2007. Director Karen Lisser recalls one year when Barton became upset because the charitable organization couldn't get enough backpacks for kids.
Barton found a low-price outlet through contacts and then paid for about 1,000 of them himself.
He doesn't do things for the recognition, Lisser said. "He does them because he's a good person."
"He's tuned in to the needs of the community," she added. "He doesn't just talk the walk, he walks it. He's got that special heart and eye for it."