After 35 years in ‘dream job,’ DNR conservation officer retires


In 35 years, Jeff Barker insists, he rarely had a bad day at work.

The 60-year-old recalled how he thoroughly enjoyed his job as a conservation officer for the Indiana Department of Natural

Resources, specifically because he was able to spend time in the schools, interact with the public and work outdoors.

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The Waymansville resident started as an officer and eventually was promoted to first

sergeant, covering Jackson and surrounding counties.

His days were considered multifaceted, teaching others about hunting, fishing and boating regulations while assisting people in areas like Starve Hollow State Recreation Area and Jackson-Washington State Forest.

“There were very few days I’d come home and I wasn’t happy,” Barker said.

Last month, the father of four and grandfather of 14 decided to turn in his badge and retire.

“My last day I enjoyed as much as I did my first day,” he said.

‘That’s the job to have’

As a boy, Barker noticed the duties of a conservation officer. He grew up on the southeast side of Marion County and saw officers driving boats, trucks and four-wheelers.

“I thought, ‘Man, that’s the law enforcement job to have. You get to have a lot of toys,’” Barker said with a chuckle.

Once he was old enough, Barker took the test to follow his dreams but was eliminated twice.

On the third try, he passed and was sent off to recruit school.

“It’s like a military boot camp,” Barker said. “They’re in your face, and you can’t do anything right.”

However, Barker said it was something he needed to experience because his family life was what he called pretty docile.

“It was really good because I found that the public gets in your face, too,” he said.

He officially became a conservation officer July 30, 1979. His first area of coverage was in Hancock, Marion and Johnson counties.

In 1984, he transferred to Jackson County in Operational District 8, where he served until he was promoted to first sergeant in 1998 to Operational District 6.

As a first sergeant, he provided field supervision over 20 officers and kept that position until his retirement.

“I love this county. The people are so great,” Barker said of Jackson County and referring to how people often recognize him out and say hello.

Good, bad times

He recalled how he recently attended a wedding and saw a man there who was just a boy when he first encountered him.

Barker was working at Starve Hollow at the time, walking through as he usually did. Near a campground by a boat ramp, he suddenly heard tires spinning.

“I knew something was up because it was 10 miles an hour through there,” he said.

Barker said he saw a boy on a bike get hit by a car and pushed against a tree.

“I said, ‘He’s got to be dead.’ It had to mash him,” Barker said.

As quickly as he could, he ran over to help him.

Then, to Barker’s surprise, the boy popped up.

“He said, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK,’ like 700 times,” Barker said. The boy was not hurt.

Apparently, an elderly woman driving through the area pushed the gas pedal instead of the brake. Fortunately, the boy was knocked away from the tree.

At the wedding, Barker caught up with the boy, who is now an adult with a family.

“It was neat to talk to him,” he said. “His dad knew who I was when I walked up.”

Barker also recalled moments in his job that weren’t so happy but more serious. He worked two homicides at Hardy Lake in Scott County.

In those days, Barker said, it was OK for him to conduct his own death investigations. Today, that’s different because the DNR has a detective to handle the responsibilities.

“Those were real interesting to work,” Barker said.

After more than three decades, Barker also has noticed over time how much law enforcement has changed to the public. He said the respect aspect isn’t as strong as it once was.

“I remember when there were those who may not know me, but they respected the uniform,” he said. “(People) 20 years my senior would call me sir. That’s the way it was.”

Yet, that never kept Barker from doing his job right.

“I love law enforcement, and it takes a special person to do it,” he said.

Retirement time

The decision to retire came after Barker spent time at home recovering from surgery and on vacation. He had planned to possibly apply for another position through the DNR but opted to retire instead.

After all, in 35 years, Barker rarely had holidays or weekends off, working odd hours at that.

“If we’re getting ready to sit down at Christmas dinner and there’s a drowning, I had to go,” Barker said.

He joked that he also missed prime hunting times.

But Barker knew it was his responsibility to the community to be there during troubled times.

“When they would call, they needed you. It made you feel good,” he said.

Luckily, he has had an understanding wife. He’s been married to Kathy since 1978.

“My wife is a doll,” he said.

For the next six months, Barker said he plans to just enjoy his time off. Like his father when he retired, he wants to be able to be around for his family whenever they need him.

“I think I’m busier now than I was when I was working,” he said with a smile. “If my daughter’s baby sitter can’t be there, then I’m going.”

Fellow officers likely will miss him.

“Jeff was a dedicated and enthusiastic officer that loved his job right up to the last day,” Lt. Tim Beaver said. “He set a great example and touched many lives during his long career. He will truly be missed.”

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“My last day I enjoyed as much as I did my first day.”

Jeff Barker, retired conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources

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Who: Jeff Barker

Age: 60

Residence: Waymansville

Family: Wife, Kathy; four grown children; 14 grandchildren

Position: Recently retired from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources after 35 years


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