Barlass full of wit, energy to the end

Mac Barlass
Mac Barlass

Mac Barlass did his best to make the world a better place with a joke, a song and a helping hand.

“He just liked to put a smile on people’s faces,” said his daughter Anne Barlass. “He always had a joke for the occasion and a one-liner, whether you wanted it or not.”

A longtime member of the Stillwater-based Croix Chordsmen Chorus and Stillwater Lions Club, the Stillwater Township resident died April 9 at age 81.

Born July 9, 1935, in Janesville, Wis., Mac Barlass grew up on a farm, where he was heavily involved in 4-H.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in Extension education from the University of Illinois. He spent his career primarily as a county agent for university Extension programs, first in Illinois and then Minnesota, where he moved in 1978.

“He’d always wanted to be a black Angus farmer … but that never materialized,” Anne said. “I think he was just too much of a people person and wanted to teach people what he knew.”

Barlass met his wife, Donna, through a Presbyterian church choir while attending UW-Madison. They married May 17, 1958, and went on to have two daughters and a son.

The couple shared a love of music, but for Mac it was a lifelong passion.

“He just loved to sing,” Donna said. “His life revolved around that.”

He especially enjoyed barbershop-style music, and he sang in various quartets over the years. His latest group, the M&D Harmony Quartet, has become a fixture at the Lake Elmo Inn.

Fellow quartet member Don Klassen called Barlass the “father of M&D Harmony Quartet.”

“He nurtured it and watched over it,” Klassen said. “He prodded us to wear classy uniforms, which he was able to find in bargain basements. … He was a natural.”

According to Klassen, Barlass seemed to become friends with everyone in a few minutes.

“He was an institution in Stillwater,” Klassen said. “Everyone knew him.”

Barlass’ tenor voice was also a staple in the Croix Chordsmen.

“He was on the board for many years,” said fellow Chordsmen member Roger Bosmoe. “He was involved with our shows, with the sound system and the lighting.”

Bosmoe said Barlass would also do lighting for Stillwater Area High School plays and trained many students to use the sound and lighting systems.

“If there was a play going on at the school or in the area, he was kind of the guy you’d call,” Bosmoe said. “He was a man of all talents.”

Anne called him a “jack of all trades and a master of some.”

Among his eclectic pursuits, Barlass spent a stint as a trolley driver and an auctioneer in Stillwater. He also enjoyed tinkering, according to his wife, Donna.

“He was Mr. Fix It,” she said. “You could ask him to fix anything, and he’d get it fixed.”

From left are the members of the M&D Harmony Quartet, Michael Franssen, Steve Plocher, Don Klassen and Mac Barlass. Klassen described Barlass as an “institution” in Stillwater. Barlass died April 9. (Photo courtesy of Don Klassen)
From left are the members of the M&D Harmony Quartet, Michael Franssen, Steve Plocher, Don Klassen and Mac Barlass. Klassen described Barlass as an “institution” in Stillwater. Barlass died April 9. (Photo courtesy of Don Klassen)

Over the years, Barlass remained an active member of the Stillwater Lions Club, constantly offering a myriad of ideas and services.

“Did every idea pan out? No — but a lot of them did, and he was tireless in trying to make them work,” said Jim Dahl, president of the Stillwater Lions. “He wanted the best for this club, this community, these people, who were all his friends.”

Sometimes that meant giving honest feedback, such as the time Dahl led the customary song at the beginning of a Lions meeting.

“Musical abilities aren’t my gift,” Dahl said. “[Mac] proceeds to tell me afterwards I shouldn’t ever start the song again.”

Right up to the end, Dahl said, Barlass exuded “passion,” “enthusiasm” and “unbounded energy.” Even while battling leukemia and going through experimental treatments, “somehow he found a way to do things.”

“The nurses and doctors couldn’t believe he was 81-and-a-half,” Anne said, adding that he liked to joke with his caregivers.

That was typical, because people mattered to Barlass, not money.

“He didn’t have a lot of wealth in life, but he was always willing to give and share what he had,” Bosmoe said.

Anne said her father’s treatment of others was rooted not only in his personality, but also his faith. He may not have come across as overly religious, but he attended First Presbyterian Church faithfully and tried to be “the hands and feet of Jesus and [do] good in the world,” Anne said.

A visitation is scheduled 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, at Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center, 2800 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater. There will also be visitation for an hour prior to the funeral the following day. Services are at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 20, at First Presbyterian Church, 6201 Osgood Ave. N., Stillwater.

The Croix Chordsmen and the M&D Harmony Quartet will perform during the funeral.

“It will be a very musical service,” Anne said.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com