MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Barfield finds ways to help in ‘retirement’

Published 7:20 pm Monday, October 15, 2018

On May 1, 2017, Kelle Barfield bought Lorelei Books and became immersed in Vicksburg.

It was the result of her asking herself, “OK, what will I do next?” as she prepared to retire from Entergy.

“I just love staying busy and active and I noted Vicksburg is where I wanted to apply that activity and action,” she said.

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When she read a news story about Troy and Laura Weeks leaving and putting their building, which included the bookstore, up for sale, she decided to talk with them.

“A town needs a bookstore. I told Laura and Troy, ‘I want it and I’ll keep it alive.’ They did a wonderful job of setting the groundwork for it, and I’ll buy it, and they said fine. They gave me a few months to transition, and I officially bought it on May 1 last year.”

The store became her vehicle to transition from resident to activist, and giving her statewide recognition as one of the Mississippi Business Journal’s top 50 businesswomen in Mississippi.

Barfield is no newcomer to Vicksburg. Her father worked for the Waterways Experiment station. She attended Warren Central High School before leaving Mississippi to attend the University of Texas and later working in New York and Birmingham, Alabama. Then she came home.

“I came to Vicksburg to be in a wedding, met my husband at the wedding reception, and married in 1986. I moved back and I’ve been here since.”

She went to work for Entergy in nuclear communications in 1986 at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, later moving to the Entergy’s headquarters in New Orleans.

Nuclear communications, she said, involved working with the nuclear division of Entergy; it’s a job that has also allowed her to travel during the past 10 years, working for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“I go to countries around the world that are thinking of building nuclear plants and teach them nuclear communication fundamentals,” she said.

“It’s really interesting. If there is a country that is considering options, they think they need to have a decision to build a nuclear plant before they start communicating. We always advise them, ‘No, energy policy is something every community should think about, plan for, understand that electricity is not free; where electricity comes from.’

“I’ve been so blessed to see many parts of the world, and wonderful as the travel is, the best part is coming home to Vicksburg, Mississippi, it just makes you so grateful for what we have.”

Barfield said her community activity was placed on hold until she retired from Entergy.

“For the last eight years, I worked out of New Orleans at the corporate office,” she said.

“I was always on the road or in the office, my world, my community, was really my co-workers.

Her husband passed away three years ago; her children are grown and live in other states, and with her gradual movement to retirement, “The community is my world, now.”

All about education

When she decided on a vehicle to become involved in the community, she chose education.

“I love learning, I love education. I took an online Harvard class a few years ago called the ‘History, Policy and Politics of the U.S. Education System,’ and it just really intrigued me, and I’ve always been interested in Vicksburg schools. We’ve got so many brilliant people here.

“I’ve always been fascinated by Vicksburg schools and why are they rated as they are,” Barfield said. “I got involved first of all with the Vicksburg Warren School District; that was just about the time they were working on getting that Ford Next Generation Learning (program).

“They asked me to be co-chair of the steering committee with Mr. (Chad) Shealy (school superintendent), because the structure of the Ford Foundation partnership is they want business people working alongside the education community.

“That was fantastic; everything the school has working and going, the partnerships, setting inside everything economic development, the schools themselves, the things coming out of hinds, Mississippi State and Alcorn, it’s just phenomenal.

“I’m thrilled the (school) bond issue passed,” Barfield said. “I think people realized if you want facilities that attract new employers, employers come with children. They care about the schools and you can’t take these things for granted; you have to invest with your time, talent and money. You have to invest in these things if you want it to be there.

“People talk about be there for tomorrow, for our children and our grandchildren, I want it to be for me now.”

She also became involved in the school district’s academies, and was later named the non-education representative for the 2nd Congressional District on the state commission on school accreditation.

“Now I’m immersing myself in the strengths and challenges of the pubic school accountability system; how it came to be. How did it come to be five years ago, where are the gaps and the holes.”

Her purchase of Lorelei books put her in touch with another side of the city — it’s business side.

She became acquainted with Main Street Vicksburg, joined the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce, and has supported economic development and improving the quality of life in the city.

“The quality of life has approved in this town in the last 12 months. Every time I look around, there’s more to do, and more fun to be had, so it’s really exciting. Growing up, people said there’s nothing to do; you can’t say that any more.

“I believe that two aspects that make life good for me are growing and giving,” she said. “I love to learn, I love to learn something new, I love to hear an idea, anything that’s new, I like. I like to give back; I like to be involved with people. Nothing is more satisfying than working together on a project.”

Among top businesswomen

Barfield was surprised when she received a letter telling her she had been nominated as one of the top 50 businesswomen in Mississippi.

“I’m not one who typically seeks out awards like that, but I felt like the timing for Vicksburg to be on that list was crucial and so I filled out the application and I was selected.

“I just think everything that’s going on in Vicksburg. There needs to be an awareness of all the good things happening here whether it’s education or economic development growth; I’m so excited about the sports park and what it will do for families and quality of life.

“When I met my husband and he was working at Grand Gulf, and I decided to move back here. I knew it was a terrific community and I got a very good public education, and knew that it was a fine place to rear our children.”

One thing she appreciates about Lorelei Books, she said, “Is that the community has made itself a part of the bookstore, and that’s critical. While they can get books online, people have been very deliberate and appreciative the bookstore has stayed open, and they’ll come here and say, ‘Nope, I want to get it from you.’

“They really are very actively interested and involved in the bookstore, and thankfully, I’m at a point in my life and my career where I can take all the profits of the bookstore anything the bookstore makes, I give back to the community non-profits that support literacy and learning and culture, art, blues, The Strand.”

She has bought textbook scholarships for students, “Anything that the bookstore can do to truly help nonprofits in the community, because those are the people who are keeping the bookstore alive.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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