EDMOND — Susan Barker is an active and unique volunteer mom at Will Rogers Elementary. Students, teachers, staff and fellow parents say they appreciate her contributions and are inspired by Barker, who is blind.
“There are so many parents and teachers who see me as a parent first and the blindness as only a part of me, not all of me,” Barker said.
She's the mother of Elana, 9, and Philip, 8. As a volunteer, she throws herself into the extra tasks parents do around a school. She's served as Parent Teacher Organization secretary for three years. She's now in her second year as vice president of fundraising for the PTO and is a regular fixture at some of the school's benefits, such as turkey bingos and the spring carnival.
She even uses her sight challenge as a life lesson for children.
“I love to teach the kids that blindness might be different but it does not mean staying at home and being nothing,” she said. She's seen regularly at Will Rogers with her guide dog, Jenny, a poodle.
Barker, 44, an El Reno native, said her challenge began at age 8 when she had a seizure and was given medication that gave her an allergic reaction. That triggered a high fever that nearly killed her.
A series of eye problems followed, which ultimately resulted in the removal of both eyes. The blindness ended years of surgeries, pain and medications and led to a new chapter in her life, parenthood.
“I was pain-free for the first time in 20 years,” she said. She said she could then concentrate on starting a family with her husband, Steve.
The couple met at Oklahoma State University in the late 1980s. She earned a bachelor's in political science and eventually did graduate studies at OU. Now married for 19 years, Susan is determined to be a part of her children's education.
“Principal House has a philosophy, it's all about the kids,” Barker said. “I agree with her wholeheartedly and that's why I give so much to Will Rogers.
“Her efforts with the PTO have been welcomed by other volunteers, teachers and Principal Sheron House.
“She is an amazing mom with an amazing family and does an outstanding job as a volunteer,” House said.
During an average week 25-35 parents, including Susan, volunteer for Will Rogers, a school with 659 students.
“We are a team, and we all work together,” said House, now in her 14th year as principal.
House marvels at the work done by Barker and recognizes her inspiration to the Will Rogers family.
Barker said it hasn't come easily.
“It took time to learn to cook again, do laundry again, diaper a baby and navigate the Internet blind,” she said. “I've learned the greatest challenge I have is the limits other people put on me. I can do many things if people would just give me a chance.”