Meet Your Neighbor: Ellen Barnes

12305329266?profile=RESIZE_710xEllen Barnes has been picking up trash from the beach near her home in South Palm Beach for more than 20 years. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Like many of her South Palm Beach neighbors, Ellen Barnes takes frequent walks along the beach. Unlike most, however, she grabs her canvas bag on her way out the door and collects the trash that washes up, then drops it in a nearby trash can or back at her residence.

“From the time you’re a little kid, you’re taught that when you see a paper you pick it up,” said Barnes, 64. “The beach is special.”

Barnes’ activities earned the attention of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Donna Korb, who nominated her for a Star Resident award she received from the PBSO in October for her contributions to the community.

A resident of South Palm Beach for 22 years, Barnes said she’s made the brief trip across State Road A1A at least a couple of times a week over the years, and almost daily during the times she’s been between jobs.

“I love the ocean,” she said. “I walk across the street and swim down to the Eau and swim back. I was on the swim team for a while. So, you want that to be clean.”

She said that although she occasionally sees a few beer bottles lined up against a wall, the vast majority of the trash she collects washes up from the ocean.

“Plastic bags, pop-top cans, Clorox boxes. They have little creatures on the sides. Old ropes that come out of the ocean, and things somebody tried to float on, like bottles or milk jugs that are tied together. If it washes up, I throw them in the recycling here at my house. Whatever it takes.”

She said the situation has “definitely” gotten worse in the past five years.

“There’s more stuff that washes in now. I wasn’t aware of it as much as I am now, but it’s probably because there are more people out there now.

“They say there are places in the world with big expanses of trash. That’s a nightmare for me.”

Barnes works as the clinical coordinator for nursing simulations at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, running the skills and simulation labs. Her husband, Ned, now retired, was president of the Palm Beach Civic Association.

The couple travel frequently, visiting Key West “at least a couple times a year,” Barnes said. They also visit her family in Portland, Oregon, and his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

The couple have two sons and seven grandchildren. Son Cory Lewis lives in Boca Raton and is a captain in the Boynton Beach Fire Department. Zach lives in Denver and runs Airbnbs.

— Brian Biggane

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. I attended Christ the King elementary school and Lexington Catholic High School.
I grew up on about 10 acres with horses, chickens, bunnies and lots of gardening chores. At the time I did not appreciate it, but later on in life, it taught me love of the land and the natural beauty around us — such a gift. In retrospect, attending Catholic school taught me how important it is to be there for one another, and that our highest calling is taking care of one another.

Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I worked for four years as a paraprofessional with severe and profound-to-trainable adults and children. I almost became a special-ed teacher. Shortly after that I had an amazing birth experience which led me to nursing, my chosen profession.
Working side by side with fellow nurses, midwives and doctors as a labor and delivery nurse has always been a great source of pride for me.
I have also worked as an educator, which has been almost half of my 32 years in nursing. I feel I have been able to share my strengths and experiences with nursing students and to emphasize how important it is to be a compassionate and competent caregiver.

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: The path is not always clear. Start moving in a direction and that experience, if it is not the right one, will lead you to something suited for you. Your accomplishments and especially your failures on that path are invaluable in learning who you are, and what you will be best at.
Keep moving — there is something for you! Also, I’ve been telling nursing students for a long time that if you know what you want, but can’t get right into it right away, get as close as you possibly can: I mean emotionally, physically, mentally and even geographically. Keep your ears and eyes open and that will lead you to an opening in the career/position that appeals to you most. Then go for it.

Q: How did you choose to make your home in South Palm Beach?
A: My boyfriend (now her husband)lived in South Palm Beach when we were dating. In love, and on the water, beautiful paths to walk on, and the stunning ocean right across the street. What could be better?

Q: What is your favorite part about living in South Palm Beach?
A: I have made incredible friends here alongside the beauty of the ocean. It is my happy place!

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. I was raised in Lexington and this book takes place there during the Civil War. One family that owned slaves had a Black man who worked as a trainer, which was unheard of at the time. My sister read it and recommended I read it. I rode horses all the time growing up.

Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: Traveling Wilburys, Paula Sinclair, Jimmy Buffett, Adele. When I want to be inspired, the sound of the ocean does the trick. I guess it’s hard to see a pattern there. When I’m driving to work I listen to Paula Sinclair, who’s like a folk singer. I like Jimi Hendrix, too. I’m kind of all over the place.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions? 
A: My parents raised 14 children: I was the ninth child in a mix of eight girls and six boys. My father, who passed away more than 25 years ago, was a pediatric surgeon who worked amazingly hard and loved the land.
My mom, the bearer of all those children, kept that whole unit together, which is spectacular. Today she is 100 years old and living happily in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by several of my siblings.
They inspired me to work hard, always to be persistent and always keep showing up. They led by example. I know it was not easy; they had their struggles but kept showing up. I feel my life has been truly blessed because of their presence in my life.

Q: If your life were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: People tell me I look exactly like Linda Hamilton, who was the female lead in the movie The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They tell me I should be in that movie.

Q: Who/what makes you laugh?
A: Pickleball and the friends I have made because of it. What could be better than sweating and laughing with really fun people?

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