- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2016

CHICKASAW, Okla. (AP) - For the last 8 ½ years, Chickasaw artist Mary Ruth Barnes has devoted a significant amount of her time to fundraising for the American Cancer Association. She’s been good at it, too.

The Ada News (https://bit.ly/2b1TTLa ) reports that as of Aug. 2, the date of her retirement, Barnes had raised $34 million for the organization.

During the same period, she found time to paint award-winning works of art, help tend to her and her husband’s horse ranch and do a host of other things too numerous to mention, including being named the 2015 Chickasaw Dynamic Woman of the Year.

“My husband has been retired for 10 years now and he’s ready for me to do some traveling with him before we get to an age where we can’t enjoy that or we’re not able to,” Barnes said.

She suffered a serious injury last year when she broke her leg trying to help her husband keep a horse inside their horse trailer. While recovering from her injuries, she said she had some time to think about the future.

“I think my accident kind of put that more into perspective, that something could happen (to us), and we need to take advantage of the time that we have to do a little traveling and some deep-sea fishing, which we both love, so we’re going to go down to the (Texas) coast, to the Corpus Christi and Rockport area, and do some of that,” she said.

Barnes said the couple likes to take their fifth-wheel travel trailer on the road, and she’s looking forward to reconnecting with old friends.

“We love to do a lot of bay fishing, catching saltwater trout and redfish, and our boat drafts in about 11 inches of water, so we stay in those low lines and cruise around,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun for us and there are a lot of retired ‘winter Texans’ down there, so we have our friends that we go see and we always make new friends.”

Barnes said she plans to focus more on her art in addition to traveling with her husband.

“I’m involved with the Artists of the Arbuckles, with my paintings, and the Chickasaw Nation. I’m also involved with the gallery down in Rockport because we go there a lot for trips and vacations, so I want to do a lot more with my artwork and concentrate on that,” Barnes said.

Barnes said she has a project she’s always wanted to devote more time to, and retirement is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Many of her paintings are centered on horses and specific scenes that draw on stories her grandfather told her as a child. Barnes said she wants to save those stories for future generations.

“I want to try to take all the stories that my grandfather told me, and those that his grandmother told him, and recreate them in some form that will let me go around to Chickasaw events or events with other tribes and tell tales that inspire others to lead a good life, because all we take with us when we leave is what we have left behind by touching something,” Barnes said. “It’s not what we own, it’s not what we buy or where we stood - it’s what we have touched, and if we can touch it in some little way that inspires another person to be better at what they do or how they feel about others, then we’ve lived the greatest life we can live.”

For now, Barnes still loves an audience and wants to tell the tales herself, but she said she also thinks about how the stories might live on once she hangs up her microphone.

“I may have to put them in book form once I can no longer get around, but I love an audience - the larger the better - and I don’t want to give up that part of my life, not just yet,” she said.

Traveling the country and transforming her artwork into motivating stories aren’t the only things Barnes said she plans to focus on in retirement.

“I want to spend more time with my grandchildren because they’re little and growing up. I want them to know grandma’s wealth of experience and great-grandpa’s stories,” she said.

Barnes begins to glow when she talks about her grandchildren, but there’s one in particular who fixes a never-ending grin on her face.

“I have a 4-year-old granddaughter, Layla, and my son says she’s a little Mary Ruth,” Barnes said, chuckling as she talked about Layla. “She’s very intelligent and very precocious, but she also has that ‘God’s fire’ that my grandfather said I had - she’s got it.”

She recounted a few examples of Layla’s “precocious” nature, practically beaming as she told the stories.

“She picked up her books the other day because we were getting ready to go on to another project, but she didn’t really want to, so when she finished I said, ‘Layla, you did such a good job picking up those books!’ And she said, ‘It’s my pleasure, Minnie.’ She calls me Minnie, that’s how precocious she is,” she said.

Barnes laughed as she recalled another Layla-Minnie moment.

“I have all these paintings of horses all over the walls of our house, and one day she came over and looked at them and just said, ‘Minnie, you have an “obsession” with horses!’ And I said, ‘Layla, do you even know what the word obsession means?’ And she said, ‘Yes, Minnie! You’re crazy about them!’ And that’s just how she said it to me,” Barnes said.

As she thumbed through photos of Layla on her phone, stopping to point out why each one was special in some way, Barnes talked about the hopes and dreams she has for her granddaughter.

“She’s got that forwardness that some people, at age 4, would want to suppress. But I encourage it because I want her to always stand up for what she believes in. Forwardness doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be arrogant or egotistical, and I want to teach her that difference, you know? Don’t be ugly about it, but stand up for what you believe in and work hard for the things you want in life,” she said.

Barnes recalled how influential her grandfather was in her life as a child growing up in Ada, and she said she wants to fill that role in Layla’s life.

“She really sees other people, and she’s very kind and very observant,” she said. “But she’s also a very strong-willed, red-headed, Irish-Chickasaw girl - she’s the modern Mary Ruth.”


Information from: The Ada News, https://www.adaeveningnews.com

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