When I left you last month I was attempting to explain a little about the tiny town of Santa Margarita and what makes it special … To those who don’t stop to get out of their cars or who zip past and never venture one mile down CA-58 off US-101, Santa Margarita may be no more than a name on a sign, a dot on a map or a blink of an eye. Character and a sense of place take time to develop and it is something discovered only by taking the time to do so. There is no app, no brief description, no collection of photographs or drone video that can convey the uniqueness of an area without looking at its past and having first-hand experience with the people, place and its environs. Previously, I left off our town history at the Mission days but feel the need to depart from this linear timeline to celebrate and talk a bit about a person who helps make this town special: Henry Barba.
I recently spoke to “our” Henry during a lunchtime visit at the Santa Margarita Senior Center. You may have heard his name mentioned over the years since he has been around for longer than most. A town favorite who always has a smile on his face, a cheerful disposition and a song to sing, Mr. Barba is about to turn 105 years young! Born at home here in Santa Margarita on Oct. 19, 1913 when the average U.S. life expectancy for men was 50.3 and for women 55, Henry has had a long and active life. He’s seen many changes over his years and it’s hard to believe how far things have come.
Besides Henry’s birth, a few big events were happening in 1913 that helped make changes to the area. The town of Santa Margarita had already been “introduced to the world” in 1889 during a “grand auction sale” but it was in 1913 that electricity started reaching the community. E.G. Lewis purchased the neighboring 23,000-acre Atascadero Rancho for his future dream community of Atascadero and Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for his automobiles, reducing production time from over 12 hours to 2.5, thus pumping out his affordable Model T’s to the masses.
Henry Barba attended the Santa Margarita School from K-6th grades, moved away to L.A. for a few years with his family, then returned in 1930 (this and his time serving Uncle Sam were his only years away from town). He graduated from Atascadero High School in 1933 before joining the service and later went to work for Union Oil, 32 years at the pumping station near Garden Farms and 36 years in total.
Since his “retirement” Henry remains active and often can be seen taking care of his yard on his riding mower or partaking in Senior Center lunches. He recently attended the successful Raisin’ The Roof Fundraiser to benefit the Senior Center where Monte Mill’s & the Lucky Horseshoe Band provided the entertainment but our hearts were stolen when Henry stood up to sing. His advice for living long is to have no worries and not to stress over things and his parting words are always to “be good to each other,” something for us all to remember.
• Oct. 19: Henry Barba’s Birthday — A birthday party is being planned and it’s sure to be the event of the month.
• Oct. 31: Santa Margarita Country Carnival — A family-friendly carnival with an Americana atmosphere put on by the Santa Margarita Community Church at the Community Hall.