Professor Emeritus John Barbes, 96, known to everyone in the Wagner College community as “Bunny,” died at home in Sunrise, Florida on Monday, April 1, 2013 — his 96th birthday. A U.S. Navy veteran and longtime resident of the Great Kills neighborhood on Staten Island, Bunny was a beloved professor, coach and administrator at Wagner College and a tireless supporter of our National Alumni Association.
Born in the Bronx in 1917, Bunny’s family moved to Staten Island when he was an infant. He moved to Great Kills in 1954 and lived there until relocating to Florida in 2008 to live with his daughter and son-in-law.
A 1935 graduate of Curtis High School, Bunny Barbes attended Wagner College for 2 years and played football for the Seahawks. He earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education from Arnold College — now part of Bridgeport University, New Haven, Conn. — and a master of arts degree in education from Columbia University.
Bunny served in the U.S. Navy from 1940 to 1945. A chief specialist in athletics, he taught physical education and was stationed in Norfolk, Va., at Millington Air Base in Memphis, Tenn., at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., and finally at St. Alban’s Hospital on Long Island, working in rehabilitation services for returning military personnel.
In 1946, Bunny began his long career in the Athletic Department at Wagner College. He was assistant football coach, then head football coach, track coach and squash coach.
He joined the Athletic Department during a difficult time — just as the football program, suspended during World War II, had resumed — and he helped preside over its successful rebuilding. In a 2005 article about the 75th anniversary of the football Seahawks, Staten Island Advance sports columnist Jack Minogue wrote, “Without Barbes, Wagner football might well be extinct.”
In 1969, Bunny was named alumni director at Wagner College. He also served as the Staten Island coordinator of our study abroad campus in Bregenz, Austria.
Bunny retired in 1983, after 37 years at Wagner, as professor emeritus. That same year, he was named to the Wagner College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Bunny Barbes was a tireless volunteer. Among the organizations to which he gave generously of his time and talents were the Camp Fire Girls, Great Kills Community Center, Great Kills Little League, Babe Ruth Little League and St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Stapleton. He also served on the YMCA Counseling Committee for Drug and Alcohol Abuse and was a member of the Wagner Guild, doing artwork for its luncheon programs.
Bunny was an avid skier until he was into his 70s, making frequent trips to Vermont and New Hampshire to enjoy the sport.
With his wife, the former Lila Thompson, Bunny enjoyed many years of weekend sailing excursions. One year Bunny and Lila, with two other couples, rented a 48-foot yacht and embarked on a voyage around the Virgin Islands. The Barbeses also enjoyed opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Wagner College Theatre. As a member of the Touchdown Club at Wagner, Bunny attended all of the school’s football games.
Bunny and Lila met at Wagner, where she was active in the National Alumni Association and president of the Wagner Guild. Lila Barbes died in 2009.
Several years ago, Wagner College established the Bunny and Lila Barbes Alumni Laureate Award in their honor. The award is given each June during Reunion to recognize distinguished service to the college.
In 2011, the Wagner Guild planted twin willow oaks on the lawn outside Foundation Hall as a living memorial to the couple.
“My father was very, very loved and respected by all he came in contact with in his life. His students, his colleagues, everyone loved him,” said his daughter, Linda Barbes Stein. “He was a very giving person, very respectful, and always tried his best to assist people.”
Also surviving John “Bunny” Barbes are his son, Allan; two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Arrangements in Florida, including cremation, are being handled by Dignity Memorial of Pompano Beach. Arrangements for the interment of ashes in Staten Island’s Moravian Cemetery will be handled by the Meislohn-Silvie Funeral Home. A memorial service on Staten Island will be announced at a later date.
Bunny will be among those honored at the alumni Reunion memorial service on Sunday, June 9 in the Great Room of the Horrmann Library.
Thanks to the Staten Island Advance, whose obituary we adapted here. Read the original on their website, silive.com.
In memory of Bunny Barbes and his wife, Lila Thompson Barbes ’40, Wagner Magazine has reposted a portion of a story it ran in the Summer 2009 issue, “Hard Times: Survival Stories and Strategies from Wagner Alumni,” in which Bunny and Lila recalled how they and their families made it through the Depression. Read it on the Wagner Magazine website.
Visit the Wagner Athletics website to read its memorial page honoring Athletic Hall of Fame member John "Bunny" Barbes.
We invite you to share your remembrances of John "Bunny" Barbes with the rest of the Wagner community. Email them to Lee Manchester in our Communications Office, and he will post them here.