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The Barber Family
But of all my heroes, the one who looms largest is my father. He was a remarkable man, whose life became a symbol to me of what is best in America…Three things governed his life: his love of Poland, his intense love of freedom and independence and therefore of this country, and his strong sense of family. He sensed the continuity, the line out of the past and into the generations ahead, generations that he would never see…I had been raised in a family culture of equality, fairness, justice, opportunity and those values seemed to me values that all men were entitled to share.
-Edmund Muskie, JOURNEYS, at pp 68, 77, 112.
Tonight, we honor Gus and Marjorie Barber and their four children, Stephen, David, Julie, and Kathy with the 2005 Muskie Access to Justice Award for the ways they have honored those values through workplace endeavors, civic activities and private philanthropy.
Like Senator Muskie, Gus Barber was the son of immigrants; in fact, his Armenian parents left Turkey to escape persecution. Like Senator Muskie, those roots have profoundly influenced both his family and the values established for the company he and his wife Marjorie created, Barber Foods. Launched with one employee and an old truck in 1955, this thriving family business marked its fiftieth anniversary this year. While all of the family members remain a vital part of the business, children Steve, Julie, and David (and Kathy’s husband Mark Dvoroszniak) now handle day-to-day operations.
Gus Barber understood what it was like to watch parents struggle to earn a living in a country where they didn’t speak the language, and he wanted, in his own words, “to give something back to the immigrant community.” In 1978, the family began working with the local Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program to find jobs for Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees. Today, their non-discrimination and diversity policies have produced what must be Maine’s most diverse workforce, including immigrants from 50 nations and supported by onsite language translators (even providing referrals to local legal aid providers, where appropriate.) Because of their recognition that education was key to advancement, the family established a worksite program called “Worksmart” in partnership with the University of Southern Maine [USM] which provides classes in English as a second language, basic math, computer skills and general life skills; they later added onsite classes supporting undergraduate work through the “Pathways to Higher Education” program, and provided tuition assistance for associates enrolled in certified or degree-bearing study. All told, the family has made an investment of more than $1 million on associate education, much of it for our “newest Americans.” Barber Foods has been recognized as the 2002 Family Owned Business of the Year by the Institute of Family Owned Businesses as USM, and received a recent Governor’s Award for Business Excellence- “America’s Best.” Gus and Marjorie Barber and their children also have been honored for their individual contributions; they are active and generous supporters of many Maine philanthropic endeavors, including the legal aid providers, United Way of Greater Portland, Catholic Charities of Maine, the Maine Cancer Foundation, Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Pine Tree Council of Boy Scouts of America.