HEIGHTS – Long-time volunteer Gary Barkoff was the recent recipient of two recognition awards – one by the Dearborn Heights Parks and Recreation Department, and the other through the Michigan Park and Recreation Association.
Barkoff, 69, was awarded the Dearborn Heights Senior Volunteer of the Year award during the city’s Volunteer Recognition Luncheon. Shortly afterward, he took part in a Lansing celebration that honored him as the recipient of the Michigan Parks & Recreation Association Margaret Whitehead Senior Citizen of the Year Award 2018.
A lifetime Dearborn Heights resident, Barkoff attended Thorne Elementary School and is a 1967 graduate of Robichaud High School and a 1969 graduate of the Henry Ford Community College.
In August, he will celebrate his 49th wedding anniversary with his “childhood sweetheart,” Sharon – who also takes an active role in the management of the organization. Together, they raised four sons who are all married, and now enjoy eight grandchildren.
Barkoff is a Ford Motor Co. retiree, having served the company in a variety of positions since being hired in 1969 as a seasonal typist. Following his summer gig, he was offered a full-time position with the company and since progressed to the rank of office manager of plant engineering in the company’s Dearborn Stamping facility – which was his last position at the time of his retirement in 2000.
Like his professional background, Barkoff has a long and varied history of volunteer service to the community which began with his involvement – dating back to 1976 – with the Dearborn Heights District 7 Dad’s Club. Well before then, Barkoff, as a typical youngster who had a passion for playing baseball and played in the Dad’s Club league for two years under the guidance of club organizer (and long-time community volunteer himself) Pete Stephen.
Following his “playing days,” Barkoff, at Stephen’s urging, became active in the club, participating originally as a board member. His mark on the club was further solidified shortly afterward, however, when he was named the club’s treasurer and eventually — following Stephen’s passing in 2008 — as the club’s director, positions he has held for over 10 years.
Barkoff has seen the club grow from a relatively small, fledgling group of parents in 1953 who simply “wanted some place for their kids to play ball when there weren’t many opportunities at the time,” to a thriving organization in its 65th year – and one of the oldest, largest and most active all-volunteer youth sports organizations in the nation. It has provided an athletic “home” to thousands of area youngsters aged 4 to 17 with an affordable way to participate in organized sports.
Today, the organization boasts multiple divisions of teams involved in baseball, basketball, cheerleading, and football for nearly 1,500 youngsters annually, who represent the communities of Dearborn Heights, Dearborn, Taylor, Inkster and Redford Township.
“We do our absolute best to keep the program open to youngsters from all surrounding communities,” Barkoff said. “If they have a desire to play, we’ll do our best to have a spot for them. It’s incredible. Over and over, we see the kids who once played in the program years ago who are now parents themselves – and they are bringing their kids into the program to participate. That, I think, is one of the most gratifying things we as the volunteers experience.”
The Barkoff family is an example of the program’s longevity, as he was a participant as a child, his children — now adults — were active participants, and their grandchildren have participated.
The D7 Dads’ Club has played an integral role in the city’s recreation program for many years.
“The Dad’s Club program has been a tremendous asset to the youth in our community, as well as other nearby communities” Mayor Dan Paletko said. “This program’s long-term success is a direct result of the dedication and hard work by our community’s volunteer leaders – people like Gary and his fellow volunteers – who put forth a huge effort toward creating a positive environment for the kids.
“The city of Dearborn Heights is proud to be associated with the District 7 Dad’s Club program as part of our community, and we are grateful to all those who commit their time and efforts toward its continued success.”
As part of its mutually beneficial arrangement with the city, the program utilizes various city facilities for its games and activities, particularly the Richard A. Young Recreation Center, Swapka Park — where the athletic fields are named after program co-founders Pete Stephen and Unk Harris — and the Canfield Community Center facilities. In addition, several local schools make their facilities available for the program’s many practice sessions.
Barkoff said he was “shocked and humbled” when he received the call from Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Kim Constan earlier this year that he had been selected as the recipient of Dearborn Heights Senior Citizen of the Year Award presented by the Commission on Aging. He was doubly surprised to learn a short while later that he was named a recipient of the Michigan Park and Recreation Association’s Margaret Whitehead Senior Citizen of the Year Award in Leadership.
On the heels of the local recognition he received from the city during its annual Volunteer Celebration Luncheon, Barkoff and his family proceeded to East Lansing to receive his state award during a reception and presentation at the E.L. Hannah Community Center. As part of his recognition at this event, Barkoff and his wife were awarded a four-day, three-night stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island later this fall.
The award is named after a long-time volunteer, Margaret Whitehead. She was the reason that the statewide trip to stay at the Grand Hotel for senior citizens came about. Each fall the trip is offered to anyone age 50 and above all throughout the state of Michigan because of her long volunteer hours.
In spite of all the accolades, Barkoff is firm that the greatest award he receives is the satisfaction of working with the community’s youth, and the knowledge of knowing he and his fellow volunteers are helping provide a meaningful, positive and caring environment for young athletes.
Recently, the Barkoffs gave their future some careful consideration and decided it was time for them to “hang up their cleats.” As a result, the Barkoffs will retire from their active involvement in the club effective Jan. 1.
“It was a great experience for a lot of years” Barkoff said, “but it is time to hand the reins over to a new generation of officers. We’ll miss it, but we wish our fellow officers and volunteers the very best of the future with this important program.”