Obituary: Betty Jean Barnes

Great-grandmother, Pomona College, CGU grad, professor, writer, dedicated environmentalist

Betty Jean Barnes, a longtime resident of Claremont and most recently of Mt. San Antonio Gardens, died peacefully at age 99 on Thursday evening October 8, with her son Jeff at her side.

She leaves three children, Loren Herold, Jeff Barnes and Betsy Bishop; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her brother Jack Caldwell and her husband Bill Barnes.

Her father, Harold T. Caldwell, went to Bonita High School, and enlisted in the US Navy during World War II. He later became a well-known builder in Claremont, designing and building many homes in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s that are now listed with Claremont Heritage.

Her mother, Daisy Ernst Caldwell, grew up in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the daughter of a ship builder. After her father died her mother moved to Claremont with her two daughters, Daisy and Edyth. Both attended Claremont High School. Daisy met Harold soon thereafter, and they were married in 1920. 

Their daughter “BJ,” as she was known, was born at home on March 6, 1921, in a San Dimas cottage surrounded by orange trees. She attended Claremont public schools and graduated from Pomona College in 1942.

She later earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from Claremont Graduate University in 1966 and 1973, respectively. She taught in local schools and then was a professor at California State University, Fullerton, teaching early childhood education.

During and after her college years she had many suitors. After the war she became a stewardess with American Airlines. She shared an apartment in Burbank with other stewardesses, where she  happily fell in love with a neighbor, Bill Barnes, whom she soon married.

They first lived in the Claremont Village, on Ninth Street, and then moved to Padua Avenue in a house that Mr. Barnes built with BJ’s father.  That’s where their three children grew up, in a house surrounded by a lemon grove that Mr. Barnes planted and nurtured.

She was an involved mother, acting as a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Brownie and Girl Scout troop leader. She also made sure her children took lessons in music, dance, art and sports.

Her family kept a trailer on the beach at El Morro in Laguna that was shared with her parents, Harold and Daisy, and her brother Jack Caldwell’s family. The many family gatherings and celebrations there over the years cultivated close family ties over four generations during the 45 years the trailer existed, as well as lifelong friendships with other beachgoers.

She was active throughout her life with creative and intellectual endeavors. She was constantly producing creative writing with illustrations, hoping to publish children’s books. She was also a progressive thinker, active in recent years with environmental concerns, writing letters, contributing to environmental causes, and even producing a YouTube video that encouraged environmental activism. The poem she wrote in the video was put to music created especially for that purpose, and was sung by a choir at a spring festival in Claremont.

“She tried to contribute to the world around her, and she inspired those around her to be curious and live life fully,” her family shared.

To spare her children the heartache of caring for an aging parent she planned ahead and installed herself in a life-care facility. She was adamant about causes she believed in, and didn’t give up even as her health declined.

She interviewed the nurses and staff at the health center where she lived and wrote about their life histories, putting them into a notebook so they could learn more about their coworkers, many of whom had immigrated to the USA from other countries and some had tragic pasts. She also badgered the head chef at the retirement home to subscribe to a Mediterranean diet plan for the residents, because she worried about their health.

“She was the kind of person that made her presence known by her dedication to her many projects that were intended to inform and educate those around her,” her family shared. “Even in death, she has contributed her body to Loma Linda University’s Body Science Department for educational purposes so that others could learn from her.”

She will be sorely missed by her family, friends and colleagues.

Donations may be made in her memory to CLASP, Claremont After School Programs at, or by check to 1111 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.


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