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By Eric Heinz
Catherine “Ma” Barker, 80, a campus supervisor and grounds proctor in the Capistrano Unified School District who died recently, was remembered during a memorial service Sunday at San Clemente High School.
Barker was known for her ability to empathize with troublemakers and set them on a more productive path during their time in high school.
Barker worked for the school district for more than 45 years until her death. She was commonly seen driving a golf cart around Capistrano Valley High School, Marco Forster Middle School and SCHS.
Pastor Pondo Vleisides of Talega Life Church presided over the memorial, and he said Barker had been a student supervisor when he was in high school.
“I’ll confess, when I came back to campus, I knew for whatever I had done or what trouble I was in, I knew I was safe,” Vleisides said. “That safety net was Ma Barker. If she knew something was wrong … she would say ‘stay out of trouble.’ I would not be here today without the direction and love of Ma Barker.”
Jay Mcilwee, who attended CUSD schools in the late 1970s, said he Google searched “Ma Barker” and the first result that came up gave information about the infamous gangster of the public enemy era, which was the complete opposite of the Ma Barker remembered on Sunday.
“She ruled with love instead of criminal activities,” Mcilwee said. “She filled in a void for those who really didn’t have grandmothers or someone to look up to.”
Melanie Catherine Bowen, a granddaughter of Ma Barker, spoke to those who attended Sunday’s memorial.
“There is an infinite amount of memories we share with kind words … just talking about the amazing woman that she was,” Bowen said. “I know she would not want us to be sad; she would obviously want us to continue to see the joy around us. I was always enamored by her (positive) reactions to things that most of us take for granted.”
Barker’s son, Matthew, said he remembered his mother as a generous and selfless individual who put her family above all else.
“She always knew where everyone was and what they were doing,” Matthew said. “She would call you up just to check in and fill you in with what everyone else was doing. Ma always had that uncanny ability to know where people were supposed to be.”
Barker graduated from Tufts University where she studied early childhood education. She and her husband, Paul Barker, raised four children and eight grandchildren.
“She was the path of pardon of the sins of our youth,” Vleisides said.