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WHITLASH Richard Wagner "Rich" Barnett, 86, died Friday, March 22, 2002, at Gilbert, Ariz., hospice.

Funeral services will be 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Whitlash Community Church. Burial with military rites will follow at the Whitlash Cemetery.

Richard Wagner Barnett was born Aug. 31, 1915, at the Barnett family home near Bloomfield, Iowa, to Clifford and Nellie (Schafer) Barnett. His parents divorced when he was 4, so he lived with his maternal grandparents on the Schafer farm near Lancaster, Mo., and attended the Sloop School near there. Rich eventually joined his mother in Chicago, where he finished his schooling. Although his formal education ended in the seventh grade, Rich was an avid reader and was self-taught in many subjects.

In 1934, Rich came to Montana with his uncle, Bill Schafer, to work on a ranch near the Sweet Grass Hills. He learned to dress tools on an oil rig and became interested in the oil business. Before long, he built and operated the Whitlash Refinery.

At the outbreak of World War II, Rich was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1941. He attained the rank of Tech-5 in Battery "B," 445th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. He served overseas in the Asiatic-Pacific and the European-Aftican-Middle Eastern campaigns. More specifically, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Rich was honorably discharged in 1945.

He returned to Montana where he worked in the trucking business and operated a welding-repair shop at Whitlash.

Rich married Winifred Allen on July 15, 1946, at Helena. They made their home in the Whitlash community. In the early 1950s, Rich and his partner, Nelson Bingham, formed the B&B Drilling Company. They initially did contract drilling, then began drilling their own wells on the Schafer lease. The partnership dissolved in 1960.

Rich and Wini moved to Helena where they bought and managed the Valley Vista Mobile Home Park. On part of their Helena property they built one of the first three KOA franchises in the system. In addition to the RV and mobile home park, Rich ran a backhoe operation. They also raised a two-acre vegetable garden and sold fresh produce at the Helena Farmers' Market.

The Barnett's spent their winter months in Mesa, Ariz., then returned to Helena in the summers. In the summer of 2000, they moved permanently to Mesa, where they enjoyed the warm winter weather and their many friends there.

Rich's hobbies included gardening, geology and hiking. He loved music. He played the guitar and the electronic digital organ. Over the years, he was a friend and mentor to many.

Rich was preceded in death by his parents, Clifford and Nellie (Schafer) Barnett; half-sister, Bernice Cross; mother-in-law, Louisa Anderson.

Survivors include his wife, Wini Barnett of Mesa; sisters-in-law, Evelyn Aiken of Whitlash, Golda Morrison of Chester, Donna Allen of Oklahoma City, Okla.; several nieces and nephews; special friends, Bob and Jean Blalock of Quartzite, Ariz.

Memorials may be made to the Neely Ray Hospice House in Gilbert, Ariz., or to a donor's choice.

Arrangements are by Rockman Funeral Chapel, Chester.


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