Adventuress turns 100

June Barrett has led a life of adventure, including welding on ships in WWII and being part of a traveling circus.

June Barrett, center, has traveled the world in her 100 years. Photo courtesy Ken and Lynette Colley.

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Posted May 22, 2023 | By Susan Smiley-Height

It’s a pretty sure bet that when more than 150 people at your 100th birthday party howl at the moon, you have had an interesting life.

June “June Bug” Barrett has certainly had that—a life filled with joy, sorrow, travel, hard work, and adventure. Barrett was born May 19, 1923, in Pittsburgh in a family home that had been built in 1910 in an area known as Cherry City.

June Barrett at age 3. Photo courtesy of Ken and Lynette Colley.

The diminutive Barrett was feted on Saturday, May 20, with a celebration at Central Christian Church in northeast Ocala, where she has been a member since 1971. And she made quite an entrance.

“One of the things a lot of people were surprised by at the party was that she was wearing a pair of welding pants,” said her son Ken Colley. “When she was young, back in the ‘40s, she used to work at the Dravo shipyard in Pittsburgh. She used to hang off the side of the ships welding them. She welded PT boats. That’s when guys went to war and the women worked. Her crew nicknamed her ‘Shorty,’ for obvious reasons. They even bought her a leather jacket with the name ‘Shorty’ on it.”

Ken has three siblings: Kim, Karl and Kathy. His mother was widowed twice.

“My dad died when I was 3, in 1954. She was widowed again in ’64. She’s been single ever since,” Colley said.

“She’s had, I thought, a rough life. A lot of people have. And she could be one of those ‘Woe is me’ people, but no, she’s always full of hugs and joyous and happy all the time,” he added.

He said his mother worked as a waitress and in home health care for a time.

Early in her life, she and her first husband traveled a lot.

June Barrett, rear, on one of her many motorcycle trips. Photo courtesy of Ken and Lynette Colley.

“A doctor had told her she could never have children, so they bought an Indian motorcycle, a 1928 Scout. They traveled the U.S., to Canada, and finally hooked up with a traveling circus. They pulled a trailer behind them, which would drop down into a stage. I called it snake oil, but they sold some kind of vitamin drink. Just traveled and sold that stuff. I think it was like Geritol. Then they got a Harley and kept traveling, Canada, the U.S., and all of a sudden, here I am,” Colley explained.

“She traveled every chance she got,” he continued. “My sister was in the Air Force and stationed in Spain and my mom went over there. She’s gone on wagon trains. She’s gone to Alaska. You name it. She’s always been an adventuress. She’d go right now if she could. She still goes to church and Bible study. She gets around. She’s totally together. She’ll beat you in Scrabble, and at Wheel of Fortune.”

Colley’s wife, Lynette, agrees with this vivid description.

“Mom has always been an adventurous person,” said Lynnette. “She has travelled to Spain, a lot of the U.S., including Alaska a few times. She has traveled by car, train, bus, plane, motorcycle, hot air balloon, cruise ship, mule/horse, covered wagon and semi-truck. Wondering if I missed any?”

Colley said his mother came to Ocala in 1970, after he moved here.

“She had always talked about coming to Florida. She headed out for it one time, years ago, with all us kids, and got as far as Columbia, South Carolina, then went back. In 1970, I moved down here. In August that year I got a letter saying they were coming from Pennsylvania to visit me at Christmas. Next thing I know, her blue station wagon with a U-Haul trailer and everything they had—kids, dog, everybody— pulled up in my front yard on Christmas Eve. That’s just how she was. She wanted to be in Florida.”

He said that within a month or two, his mom became a member of Central Christian Church and has been active there ever since.

“She is one of the church’s four longest time members. Her and my sister and another guy I’ve known forever. That’s why she had such a good turnout at the party and the church was so gracious and gave us the venue for the party; because it was for her,” he said.

He said his mom basically raised her four children by herself and taught them valuable lessons along the way.

“She kept us in church and taught us to be respectful and treat our elders right. Every one of us grew up to be respectful. We all work. We all have earned our living,” he said. “When we were children, we didn’t have much, but I tell people she raised four children on $198 a month Social Security. We were a happy family.”

Among the many family members and friends at Barrett’s party was Shelia Arnett, who told those gathered how the howling at the moon phenomenon came about.

“It was at least 15 years ago, maybe 18. The Central Christian ladies were at a retreat in Orlando, and we were playing a game, ‘Have You Ever?’ June Bug said, ‘Have you ever howled at the moon?’ and no one had. So, we did it,” Arnett recalled.

For years now, on the occasion of a full moon, people will tag Barrett on social media and let out a rousing howl. And, of course, that’s what everyone did at the party on Saturday as well.

Barrett said by phone on Monday of turning 100, “I’m amazed. I never thought I’d reach this age.”

She said of raising her four children, “I had God’s help, but I also helped God, really.”

Her advice about life is to, “Live each day as it comes, and be kind to others.”

June Barrett, born May 19, 1923, celebrated her 200th birthday on May 20 in Ocala. Photo courtesy of Ken and Lynette Colley.

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