Travel—with its exhilaration and anxieties, its breathtaking new views and unsettling cultural differences—often serves to deepen our love for our own homes. Although local philanthropist Barbara K. Warner traveled extensively throughout the world, her heart was in South Bend.
Barbara’s family had a long-established place in the South Bend community. Her father, businessman Eugene B. Warner, studied law and dealt in real estate, while her mother, Merle (Shidler) Warner, was a writer for the South Bend Tribune, as was Barbara a generation later.
Barbara attended South Bend’s public schools, graduated from Penn Hall Preparatory School in Chambersburg, PA, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Sweet Briar College, VA. After graduation, she worked as an advertising copywriter in Washington, DC, and also for the Erwin Agency, a Washington-based news service.
Although Barbara first developed a taste for travel as a child—her parents, too, loved to visit faraway places—the majority of her international trips took place during her adult years, during the second half of the twentieth century. She traveled all over the world, from Europe to South America, from Asia and the Middle East to Australia and New Zealand. She saw incredible beauty, such as the striking blue, green, and turquoise colors of the lakes in Chile, as well as more disturbing scenes: India shocked her with its devastating poverty and its milling streets.
Her travels added to her appreciation of the world’s history, archeology, art, and anthropology, and she collected artwork and other souvenirs from dozens of destinations. In many ways, though, Barbara’s experiences with other countries and cultures cemented her commitment to the community in which she was raised. Here in South Bend, her generosity has changed our landscape—literally.
Visit the South Bend Museum of Art, and you’ll have a chance to admire the work of local and regional artists in the Warner Gallery and Warner Rotunda. At South Bend Civic Theatre, you can enjoy a performance from a comfortable seat in the Warner Studio Theatre. (Right upstairs is the Wilson Auditorium, named for Barbara’s dear friend Marjorie Wilson and her family.) Listen to the soaring violin of the South Bend Symphony’s Associate Concert Master, and you’re hearing the music of the endowed Barbara K. Warner Chair.
As a board member at Indiana University South Bend, Barbara worked for the construction of the university’s art gallery. And she received the Excellence in Philanthropy Award from the Center for History (now the History Museum)—a particularly appropriate award considering her personal history with the Oliver Mansion. Years ago, before the mansion was donated to the museum, Barbara attended family parties there.
In the social services, her philanthropic interests spanned the full range of human experiences. She was a champion of the Family & Children’s Center, the South Bend Education Foundation, and—of course—and the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County.
“I knew Barbara for more than twenty years,” says Rose Meissner, president of the Community Foundation. “She served on the Community Foundation’s founding board of directors and was a personal friend and mentor to me from the very beginning. I always admired the breadth of her interests, caring as much about social services as the arts. Whenever I asked her for feedback or advice, she gave it to me straight, which I appreciate—softened by her ever-ready sense of humor.”
Barbara died in September 2020 at the age of 96, but her impact on our community will continue long into the future through an extremely generous bequest to the Community Foundation. Because she knew that the needs of a community change over time, Barbara structured her gift to be very flexible, ensuring that the Foundation will have the resources to respond to future challenges and opportunities.
Although she traveled the world, Barbara Warner never forgot her home. Here in St. Joseph County, we’ll never forget her—her energy, her compassion, her humor, and her enduring generosity.