By Stacy Prouty
Graham Barkhuff (known by his friends as Barky) is comfortable in his own skin. When asked about his aspirations he says, “There’s nothing left undone; I’m just enjoying life.” Barky has a certain calm that puts you at ease as he talks in the North Garden residence overlooking the bay he shares with his wife Pat. But don’t mistake his calm way for slowing down – in fact, he is certain that staying active is the key to enjoying life.
Both Barky and Pat spent their careers teaching in the same school (where they met) in Saugerties, a town in Ulster County, New York, on the Hudson River. Barky taught Industrial Arts (shop and woodworking) to grades 7-12, and Pat taught 11th and 12th grade English and Humanities. After 30 plus years, they decided to retire from their careers and build a home in the Adirondacks, where they owned 47 acres and a collection of automobiles, including 23 Corvairs. They also established a vacation home in Vermont, and decided to travel the world.
While they enjoyed touring countries in Europe as well as Turkey, Japan, and China, Barky admits being most fond of the natural beauty of Australasia (a region of Oceania, which comprises Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighboring islands in the Pacific Ocean). Between jaunts overseas, Barky and Pat enjoyed both of their homes in the Northeast and visiting Barky’s parents in Sarasota. When his parents died, Barky inherited their north Sarasota home and the couple decided to spend their winters in Sarasota.
Barky and Pat came to love Sarasota and built a home in the historic Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores neighborhood to be closer to the Bayfront, downtown, and the arts community. Barky, known then as a “fast walker – once clocked at 5mph,” travelled by foot weekly to volunteer with a group at the Ringling Circus Museum, where his skills in woodworking were and still are prized. Since 1989, he’s spent at least 4 hours a week (that’s 5200+ hours!) making beautifully-carved parade wagons and circus animals, like carousel horses, camels, and tigers that come alive to take you away to the Big Top. Additionally, this group of talented volunteers makes small replicas for sale in the gift shop.
The Circus Museum has expanded significantly since Barky first walked through their doors. Now the impressive Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Archives includes a new west wing for interactive exhibits, the Greatest Show on Earth Mural, and, of course, the 44,000-piece Howard Bros. Circus Model. (If you are inspired to go, you will find an incredible wealth of circus memorabilia that dates as far back as 1816, as well as interactive learning exhibits for young and old alike.)
Five years ago, Barky and Pat moved into Plymouth Harbor with Pat twisting Barky’s arm, according to Barky. He has always loved driving his cars and on every trip crossing the John Ringling Causeway to St. Armands or Longboat Key, Pat would put a plug in for “the retirement community with a spectacular view” as the place they would eventually call home. Now they can be seen driving from Plymouth Harbor in Barky’s Thunderbird (sometimes to car shows).
When asked what he likes best about living in Plymouth Harbor, Barky thoughtfully responds, “the people, the convenience, the location – and of course the shop downstairs.” The shop he is referring to is the Wood Shop located within Plymouth Harbor’s new Wellness Center where a dedicated group of residents who enjoy working with wood, fixing all manner of furniture, and even custom building cabinets and bookcases, have turned what had been a hobby into a service that benefits many. This resourceful group has repaired nearly 100 pieces of furniture; good neighbors to have!
Their resourcefulness includes a vigilance for opportunities to recycle even the most mundane discards. In fact, today, Gene Heide (one of his fellow repurposers) tells Barky of his new find for the shop, three metal shelves destined for the dumpster. Of course new projects must wait until the finishing touches are completed in the newly renovated Wood Shop, the final phase of the Wellness Center.
Barky is also an active volunteer at First Congregational Church of Christ – part of the “Black Thumb Gang” – where he helps to fix and build things to keep the place humming. He still loves to walk, spend time in the Wellness Center, and travel with Pat. When asked if there is anything else to know about him, he confides that the occasional gin martini with a twist is also part of his secret to aging well!