• Joseph Theodore Barna
    June 12,2014
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    Joseph Theodore Barna

    Joseph Theodore Barna died on June 8, 2014 at the Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, from a combination of illnesses. He was 65.

    He was born in 1949 in Middlebury, Vermont, the son of Robert and Lillian Barna. He moved with them to Brandon, Vermont, when they came to teach at Brandon High School and Otter Valley Union High School. He graduated from Otter Valley in 1967. He is in that school’s Hall of Fame as part of a debating team that was the first in Vermont to win three state championships in successive years. When Otter Valley opened in 1961, the stage had an electrical panel that only he could understand; he organized a group he called The Stage Crew that supported dramatic productions and ran their lighting. In the summer, he worked backstage at Middlebury College.

    He went on to graduate from Yale College. While there, he put together a group that performed light shows, one of the first such presentations. At one point it provided background visuals for a concert at the legendary Fillmore East Auditorium.

    He went on to graduate from the Yale School of Dramatics. His thesis there was one of the first computer programs for organizing theater lighting; later he would come back on a temporary basis to teach their course on electrical work.

    While living in Connecticut he worked as a computer programmer, drove a municipal bus, did a variety of theatrical work, was a photographer, and wrote commentaries for Connecticut Public Radio. It was in this period that he converted a former school bus into a fully equipped camper, which he and his friends used to go across the country and back.

    His ingenuity in working with wood was clear from childhood, when he made miniature balsa wood models that included a working rolltop desk. At one of the productions where he was technical director, the initials WWJD did not mean What Would Jesus Do? but What Would Joe Do?

    He moved to Oregon, where he did technical work for a dance company. When he moved to the New York City area, he was the technical director for productions that included one on Broadway. He was one of the leading photographers for New York City’s Pride Parade.

    He was an amateur historian of wooden roller coasters and traveled around the country to document almost all of them. At one point he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show That’s Incredible with his roller-coaster-riding dog Zonker. Among his art forms, he was one of the last of the great hitchhikers, with Zonker helping him to persuade drivers to stop. He has written a book about those years, which I will put into digital form and distribute.

    His photography has documented many facets of American life: signs, fire hydrants, groupings of images unique to his imagination. In later life, he did volunteer theatrical work, was part of construction crews, and taught middle school mathematics.

    He is survived by his brother, by his nephew Damon Barna, by several cousins, and by many, many friends. Anyone interested in helping to organize a memorial service or obtaining a copy of Joe’s book should contact Ed Barna via gotobarn@comcast.net, by writing to 7 Forbes Circle in Middlebury, or calling 388-0247.

    Memorial contributions can be made to the Bison-Panther Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Otter Valley Union High School. 2997 Franklin St., Brandon, VT 05733.
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