The Pittsburgh Foundation

Ken and Jennie Barker: A commitment to conservationLove of the wilderness leads to a fund and a planned gift

Ken and Jennie Barker are nature lovers with a passion for taking care of wilderness and the animals who call it home.

Deanna Garcia

By Deanna Garcia
Deanna Garcia is a communications officer at The Pittsburgh Foundation.

The view from the comfortable sunroom attached to Ken and Jennie Barker’s home is serene on a hot July day. The large backyard of their North Hills home was once just a field of grass, but is now a masterful blend of trees, bushes, plants, flowers and wildlife.

“It’s entertainment,” says Jennie, with Ken adding, “Oh yeah, there are squirrels, chippies [chipmunks] and many other creatures. This is a certified wildlife habitat.”

There is a plaque in the yard from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, recognizing the land as a Certified Backyard Habitat. A separate plaque from the National Wildlife Federation recognizes the property (and its owners) for a commitment to sustainability, providing essential elements of a wildlife habitat such as food, water, cover and a place to raise young. The pair’s steadfast dedication to wildlife is evident in the care they’ve taken, and it’s what led them to establish a planned gift and donor-advised fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation.

But Ken and Jennie Barker weren’t always the conservation-minded wildlife lovers they are today. Ken grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and family vacations usually took him to Lake Erie or New Jersey, not hiking in the woods. Jennie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I was a city girl,” she says. “I never had much exposure to wilderness or to wildlife.”

The Honeymoon

The Barkers have been married for 37 years. They met while working for the same company. At the time, Jennie worked in the large corporation’s Minneapolis office and Ken worked in the Pittsburgh office. It was a seminar in New Orleans that brought the two together. Jennie describes their first encounter as a true “our eyes met across the room” moment. They spent the weekend together in Louisiana, driving, sightseeing and enjoying Bourbon Street. Then the two-week seminar ended.

Left:  Ken and Jennie Barker after their honeymon hike. About 15 miles from the trailhead, a bear stole nearly all of their food - leaving them with dry potato flakes and instant coffee. A Boy Scout troop, fellow hikers and a ranger shared food to help the pair get back to the trailhead.

Right: The Audubon Society plaque, which recognizes the care and intention of the habitat the Barkers have created with bird-friendly plants, bushes, grasses and shrubs. 

“We started to date long-distance and not quite a year later, I popped the question,” remembers Ken, as Jennie interjects, “But it was with the provision that I would have to come to Pittsburgh because he would not move to Minneapolis, he said ‘Life’s too short.'” Laughing, Ken adds, “It’s just too cold for me!”

Before moving back to Pennsylvania for work, Ken spent several years in the west, where he began hiking and discovered a passion for the wilderness. For their honeymoon in 1984, he convinced Jennie to go on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. They spent two weeks in the mountains and hiked about 60 miles. Aside from small nature hikes here and there, Jennie had never done such an intensive trek.

“It was amazing,” she says. “I learned a lot and it really opened my eyes to the environment and to wildlife.” She fell in love with nature. Ken was already a member of the Sierra Club when he and Jennie got married, and after their honeymoon, Jennie also took an interest in preserving wild lands. They support conservation efforts for the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, and through their donor-advised fund they also support many local organizations. Their support spreads from their own yard to all of southwestern Pa.

“We’re big fans of Ecology Professor Doug Tallamy who has proposed turning your yard into your own national park,” says Ken. “It’s never crowded, there are no parking issues, it’s always there and always open.”

Ken acknowledges that he and Jennie are fortunate to have found a house with an acre of land, which has given them ample space to create their small reserve and that is part of why they want to give back. 

Building a Legacy

In 2004, the Barkers established a planned gift with The Pittsburgh Foundation, with the instructions that after their deaths their estate would come to their fund at the Foundation to go to organizations committed to preserving wildlife. They had been referred by their attorney at the time, Jim Kopleman, who has since retired. It was a good fit and, after working with members of the Foundation’s Development and Donor Services team, the couple established the Kenneth A. and Jennie H. Barker Wildlife Preservation Fund, a donor-advised fund, which supports organizations directly involved in providing wildlife preservation and rehabilitation services, land acquisition and conservation and no-kill sanctuary and shelter to domestic animals including pets, livestock and exotic species.

Jennie planted this garden in early 2020. 

Since 2007, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Allegheny Land Trust, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Humane Animal Rescue and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania have been among the organizations receiving grants from their fund. Ken says he and Jennie will continue to care for their yard and offer grants, and are comforted knowing that the Foundation will honor their intent after they are gone.

“Right now it’s a somewhat modest fund,” says Ken, “but it’s going to be fully-funded upon our passing, so it will grow significantly at that point. Our fund will be able to make meaningful donations to organizations instead of smaller amounts, which we know are appreciated, but it will be nice to know we will continue to make an impact.”

Keeping the Future Beautiful

For Ken and Jennie, the Foundation’s commitment to donor intent is a big comfort, because they know the issues facing the environment.

“We could have planned our will in a way that just gave away everything to particular organizations, sort of a one-shot deal,” says Ken, “but being managed in a perpetual fashion, without invasion of principal, means that it’s going to go on forever.”

Ken and Jennie don’t hike as much as they used to, but their love of nature hasn’t waned even a little bit. Their main focus is on what they view as their larger back yard, southwestern Pa. Because of their fund, they can rest easier, knowing that they are doing their part to protect some of the most beautiful areas around Pittsburgh and beyond.

Barkers
Ken and Jennie Barker have carefully cultivated their space to ensure the trees, plants and shrubs nurture and sustain wildlife.
Ken Barker is pictured, an older, white, balding man with white hair and beard. He is standing outside with greenery in background wearing a short-sleeved patterned shirt.
Ken Barker in front of the plaque from the National Wildlife Federation.
Ken Barker, an older, white man is dressed in a red Santa suit, talks to children at an outdoor ice skating rink.
Ken Barker knows he bears a resemblance to Santa. He gets remarks about it year-round. At the Foundation's annual ice skating event that takes place after Thanksgiving, he made some children very happy.