There’s a rising star on the campus of UW-Parkside and this young man doesn’t wear a uniform number, swing for the fences or throw a blazing fastball. At least not anymore.
His name is Chris Barker, a 2006 Racine Lutheran High School graduate who is Parkside’s first-year Associate Director of Athletics for Internal Operations. He loves his coffee and he lives for building bridges of communication at the Somers campus he helps oversee with a positive, upbeat flair that was nurtured during his youth at the family store.
“He’s been a game-changer for us in a lot of different ways,” said Andrew Gavin, Parkside’s Director of Athletics.
The 30-year-old Barker is working tirelessly to heighten the awareness of a university that possibly has a blurred identity being located just a few miles northwest of Carthage College in Kenosha. Odds are that he’ll succeed. After all, this is a young man who has prospered at several other career stops during the last eight years.
To say the least, he’s off to a good start in his first year at Parkside.
“I offered him a lifetime contract so he’d never leave us, but he smartly turned it down,” Gavin kiddingly said. “If he wants to be, he’s going to be a great athletic director one day.”
Barker’s responsibilities have been extensive in his first year. He oversees Parkside’s business services and budget management, audits, events and rental of facilities. He also has a hand in corporate partnerships, fundraising and strategic planning. One of his side projects is reviving the school’s long-dormant annual golf outing.
“I hope we continue to be not just a standard in the community, I want us to be at the forefront of the community,” Barker said. “I also want people to get a glimpse of what we have here. Everyone’s always calling it a hidden gem and it is a gem, but I don’t think it needs to be hidden anymore.
“We’re continuing to evolve and we’re starting the process of renovating the facilities. Just in terms of the overall vision of Parkside, it’s pretty cool. The overall vision is just getting people to Parkside and letting them see how good it really is.”
Based on Barker’s history, Parkside may have made one of its most pivotal hires in several years. This man has deep values that he applies to his position and it started with the Open Pantry franchise store his parents, Chris and Kathy, owned at 817 South Main St., from 1985-99. It was there that young Chris, his older sister, Danielle, and his twin sister, Allison, started receiving an education long before they attended school for the first time.
That education started with his parents, who considered their diverse customers to be family. Everyone was treated with respect and children were welcomed with open arms. Once, when his parents caught a couple of kids shoplifting some candy, the matter was settled quietly and without involving the police.
“We thought children in the store were kind of like wildflowers,” Kathy Barker said. “They were beautiful, but they were not tended and cared for the way they should be. So we always tried to make sure our kids understood that everybody deserves the same shakes that you have and that you are very fortunate we are behind you.
“They learned from a very early age that anything worth having was certainly worth working for. We wanted to teach our kids the values that were important.”
That place was young Chris’ world for most of his youth. He learned his first math while handling the store’s cash register. He was expected to pull his weight at the store and was taught that if we wanted anything, which included a college education, he had better figure out a way to earn it.
And Barker got things done, just as he is doing now for Parkside.
“Just being able to see my parents’ work ethic was priceless,” Barker said. “It’s something you can’t recreate or simulate. My parents taught us that we’re never going to quit any anything and you’re always going to work as hard as you can and respect everyone.
“I think that kind of segued me in having a lot of confidence in my life.”
He certainly did at Lutheran, where he earned 12 athletic letters in four years. As a senior, he earned first-team All-Racine County honors in football and baseball and was honorable mention in basketball.
“I thought Lutheran was a great experience,” Barker said. “Coach (Bob) Mallwitz, coach (Scott) Smith and coach (Jeff) Christensen were great mentors and they enabled me to be a well-rounded athlete, which is a little rare these days.
“They entrusted with leadership and it helped develop me as a true leader.”
Baseball was Barker’s first love, but a difficult experience awaited him after he graduated from Lutheran.
“One of the biggest challenges and disappointments was when I didn’t have the Division I baseball offers that I thought I was going to get out of high school,” he said. “I ended up going to a junior college (Madison Area Technical College) and, in my mind, it was a huge disappointment.”
But Barker turned it into a positive that was also a life-changing experience. Playing for MATC set up Barker for a scholarship to UNC-Greensboro, where he played from 2009-11. Also while playing for MATC, he met his future wife, Racine native Emily Kuiper, who was attending UW-Whitewater at the time.
From there, Barker became an assistant baseball coach at Delaware State and, later, recruiting coordinator. The program went 103-48-1 during his three seasons there.
After a brief stop working as general manager of the Racine Hitters baseball program, Barker was hired in 2015 as assistant director of athletics at Carthage. That set him up for his opportunity at Parkside, where Barker is putting to work what he was taught as a young boy.
“There will be people certainly coming after him and he’ll have a chance to run an athletic department some day,” Gavin said. “And probably sooner rather than later, if that’s what he wants.”
As for Kathy Barker, the values her son was taught at 817 South Main St., have come to fruition.
“You know, I always felt my children were my resume on this earth and when I’m gone, they will have left a great mark on this earth,” she said.