Dr. Albert P. Barnett still helping animals and friends
When asked about retirement, Dr. Albert P. Barnett just laughs and shakes his head.
That’s because the 79-year-old is probably busier than ever and has no immediate plans to stop going. Not only has he had a lifetime of taking care of animals and being involved in civic duties, he currently gets up at 2:30 a.m. every day seven days a week, to work the morning shift at 3 a.m. at Flannery’s dairy farm. He even hitched a ride with a plow truck years ago when there was a snowstorm so he could make it to work on time at the dairy.
After the cows are milked, he stops by Miller’s Cafe on Water Level Road near Rockwood, where he does a Sudoku puzzle and eats breakfast. It’s a place, he says, where one can “learn about the world and enjoy good food at the same time.” Lisa Miller, owner of the cafe, says that the cafe is as if it’s Doc’s office and he gets to see and talk to many friends.
Then, after Miller’s Cafe, he heads out to various clients who need his veterinarian services throughout the region, whether it be a dairy farmer, a horse or dog owner, or volunteering at a rabies clinic. He also fills in for Dr. Brady Hamady, owner of Forest Hills Vet Clinic in Sidman.
But, the list doesn’t stop there. His retirement includes being president of the Somerset County Beef Producers Association, a director of Somerset County Farm Bureau, a member of Somerset Rotary Club, a bowler with Coddington’s bowling league at Terrance Lanes and a sponsor of local horse pulling events. He also regularly volunteers as a server whenever Sipesville fire hall needs him for banquets.
“Dr. Barnett has dedication and he is simply enjoying retirement doing exactly what he wants,” said Tom Flannery, the dairy farmer in Lincoln Township where Dr. Barnett has worked for the past seven years.
“I think he enjoys coming to work at our dairy farm because when he still had his own practice, he checked in every day at his father’s dairy parlor and he comes from that background of dairying,” said Tom. “He is a lifelong friend, an excellent neighbor and a good vet. He has good self-will and self-discipline and is a man from the old breed.”
Likewise, Sue Kovach, the main cook at Sipesville fire hall, said that Dr. Barnett is reliable and friendly and available to serve for almost every meal.
“He is like a walking advertisement,” laughs Sue. “When we have meals, he always tells his friends and brings business our way. He has helped us for many, many years and we are appreciative that we can count on him for being dependable.”
Dr. Barnett, however, is the first to say that hard work is simply part of his character after growing up on a dairy farm, being in 4-H and working around animals all his life.
He remembers being put up on a Belgian’s back at 4 years old and being told to hold on to the hames when his grandfather was bindering oats during threshing season. He laughs and says it was his family’s way to babysit him.
The oldest child of five born to James and Ida Mae Barnett of Sipesville area, Albert knew he wanted to become a vet at a young age. His parents owned a dairy farm and Albert had dairy calves among other livestock, as Jenner Township 4-H Club projects. He even rode along with vets Dr. Ling and Dr. Korns on house calls to help animals in his teen years.
His siblings are Connie Marteeny of Somerset area; Jim, Lancaster County; Susie Dull, Pittsburgh; and Deb Debo, Texas.
“It was a different back then and I’ve seen a lot of changes in my time,” said Dr. Barnett, remembering a time before electricity and growing up in the World War II era of America. “Everyone gave their money for war bonds and everyone saluted Old Glory at parades. It was a time of patriotism. Now, when we go to Penn State football games, some people don’t even stand for the singing of the National Anthem.”
His father and he visited a woman in Acosta after she lost her son in World War II and Dr. Barnett remembered her words to this day — “She said she wasn’t mad at her country but she realized that this is a place where we have to pay for freedom.”
He remembers the 1954 Sesquicentennial Parade of Somerset lasting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and being a part of the 4-H on a float. He says it was a day to remember in the history of Somerset County.
Being on the farm gave young Albert a great work ethic and a respect for people and the animals. His grandfather, Albert Barnett, was a thrasher, which meant that he went to farms to harvest crops. Dr. Albert Preston Barnett was named after both his grandfathers — Albert Barnett and Preston Ogline. He says his grandfather Albert Barnett was quite the horseman.
“My grandfather (Albert) was very particular with his horses,” laughs Dr. Barnett. “He’d bind up their tails during work and then brush them out in the evenings. He really took care of them. We had three teams during World War II and then each team left when we bought a tractor.”
Education was a priority in the Barnett home and all five children went to college. Albert’s father, Jim, went to college for chemical engineering during the Depression from 1932-36 and worked for his room and board at Penn State University. Jim Barnett, who died in 2000, kept meticulous records — paying $2,126 for his postsecondary education. Albert’s mother, Ida Mae, died last year and lived to be 101 years old. She had been a resident of Siemon Lakeview Manor for many years.
Dr. Barnett was graduated from Somerset Area High School in 1958 and attended his 60th year class reunion last year with 39 members present. He was graduated from Penn State University in 1962 in the pre-vet program. He was then graduated with his doctorate in veterinary science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.
When he started out in 1965, Dr. Barnett worked for a few years for Dr. A. Wayne Mountan at Lake View Animal Clinic in Latrobe. It was here that the young vet met and later married his wife, the former Kathleen Bundy of Derry in Westmoreland County. She was the secretary at the clinic. The couple lives on the home farm along Barnett Road near Sipesville and raised two children there, Jennifer, married to Dan Kimmel; and Kimberly, executive officer for Technimark with a satellite office in Latrobe. The Barnetts have two grandchildren: Mary, 25, and Justin Kimmel, 9.
In the fall of 1968, Dr. Barnett started working with Dr. James Knepper in the brick house nearby where Laurel Highlands Animal Health is now located. Then, in 1969, the current structure was built. By then, three vets were working together — Dr. Albert Barnett, Dr. James Knepper and Dr. Bob Bastian — in a practice called Knepper, Barnett and Bastian. Dr. Knepper left the practice in 1981 and Dr. Bastian, who served as a state representative and has since retired, left the practice in 1992 to become a politician.
In addition to his hospital duties, Dr. Barnett also became a politician, serving as president of the Somerset school board from 1990 to 2002.
“In the beginning, we were never going to go beyond the borders of Somerset County,” said Dr. Barnett, who may now travel to Maryland and West Virginia in any given day, seeing both his equine and bovine patients. “We thought going to Confluence was a long way. Every place had farms and every place had cows and horses. We would have 15 or 20 calls a day here in Somerset County. Then, farming started to change.”
Those changes included fewer farms and bigger dairies and a more diverse clientele. And, as time went on, Dr. Barnett did more small animal procedures at the office as well as reach out to a wider location of country customers. It’s all been a labor of love for Dr. Albert P. Barnett.
“There have been times when I worked around the clock. I would have never done that if I didn’t love it. This has been my life,” he said. “I would have never had a chance to meet all the good people I’ve known had I not been a veterinarian.”
Dr. Barnett sold his practice Laurel Highland Animal Hospital in 2010 to Dr. Dusty Davis. Since then, he has done some traveling in retirement. He has traveled to France, Germany and Austria in 2012 and got to see Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and Dakco concentration camp. He went to Dublin, Ireland, and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and served as a vet for the Iditarod Races in Alaska in 2015, when he had the honor of meeting Sarah Palin, ninth governor of Alaska.
He has always been and will always be a die-hard Penn State football fan, traveling to all home games and one away game every season.
“The key to life is work hard, try to treat everyone fairly and also find ways to enjoy yourself through the little things in life,” he said.