Surprise Party: Lebanon High’s Barber Welcomed Home

  • Julie Barber with her mother Kate Barber is greeted in front of the Cornish Fire Department on Feb. 21, 2017 in Cornish, N.H. Supporters surprised the family with a welcome home gathering for Julie. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tracey Barber, of Hartland, Vt., waves as Julie Barber her niece returns to her home in Cornish, N.H., on Feb. 21, 2017. A welcome committee had gathered at the Cornish Fire Department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With a police and fire department escort Julie Barber returns to Cornish N.H, on Feb. 21, 2017.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Julie Barber is greeted by a crowd of well wishers with her mother Kate Barber in front of the Cornish Fire Department on Feb. 21, 2017 in Cornish, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/21/2017 11:54:35 PM
Modified: 2/22/2017 11:53:32 PM

Cornish — Ancient Romans called their lavish parades through city streets a “triumph.” Some were celebrations of military victories, others involved banquets that lasted for days. But all featured parades through the city, letting the community at large share in individual success.

Julie Barber earned her own triumph. On Tuesday, the Lebanon girls hockey defenseman returned to her hometown of Cornish a conquering hero.

She fought and won her battle with grade II astrocytoma, a spinal cancer that left her without control of her body from the stomach down. After two months at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston — a stint that was supposed to last only five weeks — Barber, with her mother, Kate, returned to Cornish for only the second time since the 17-year-old was diagnosed in early December.

Chris Chilton, who works for both the Cornish Rescue Squad and Plainfield Fire Department, was determined to give Barber the reception she deserved.

“It’s a good way to put a smile on her face, to welcome her home,” said Chilton, who wore a purple #BarberStrong shirt over a sweatshirt on Tuesday. “The way the community of Cornish is, (this was a way to) let the family know that the community has their backs. Anything that they need, all they have to do is ask.

“For a 17-year-old to be going through what she’s going through, and the spirits she’s been in, I figured just one more smile on the way home would make a huge difference for her,” he added.

A few phone calls and some posts on social media was all it took for Chilton to spread the word. The Cornish Fire Department and Police Department, Sullivan Country Sheriff’s Department, Meriden Fire Department and Plainfield Police were all involved.

A police escort, including Chilton in a red Cornish Rescue truck and Plainfield officer Anthony Swett in a squad car, met Julie and Kate on Whaleback Mountain Road, off of exit 16 on Interstate 89. Chilton flagged the car down, which was about to drive away if not for Chilton’s hand signals to illustrate something was going on. The Barbers stopped, confused. Chilton pulled ahead and got out of the truck to tell the pair to follow him. Swett followed the Hyundai and the caravan started its trip to Cornish.

On the back of the truck was a blue sign, handmade, that read “Welcome Home Julie #17.” The Barbers followed the sign into town.

About seven spectators waved and cheered as the caravan passed the Meriden Deli, where multi-colored signs were set up in advance.

The caravan finally stopped at the Cornish Fire Department, where a group of about 25 were waiting. The well-wishers — most wearing #BarberStrong T-shirts — included family, friends and neighbors, all of whom had been eagerly awaiting Barber’s return.

“I’m friends with both her sisters, Lily and Greta,” said Autumn Spaudling, who had been waiting with her mother, Michelle. “We just wanted to welcome her home. … It’s probably really happy for everyone. She’s been gone for a while.”

Added Michelle: “It’s neat to see everyone out here. We were happy to come and happy to make posters and get to see her again. We haven’t seen her in person (since Barber was in the hospital).”

A group of volunteers helped Barber out of the car and into her wheelchair to thank the crowd. She reiterated just how surprised she was to see everyone out to greet her.

“I guess my mom was getting some texts today, saying, ‘What time are you leaving? What exit are you getting off on?’ ” Julie Barber said. “She just now was telling me that.

“It was so cool,” she added. “I feel very welcome. … (I’m) definitely very excited to be home.”

The caravan moved to the Barber home and was greeted by more signs on the side of the road and another group of waving supporters. Three purple balloons were tied to the family mailbox.

Barber, who is planning to attend tonight’s Lebanon girls hockey game at Campion Rink against Manchester Central, settled in back inside her home. People who were there to visit got a look at the new renovations: A handicap ramp from the driveway wraps around to the front door; her bedroom, built as an addition to the first floor, is nearly complete.

Barber was asked at the Cornish Fire Department if she feels like she’s at the end of a long journey.

“It feels like she end of a long chapter,” she responded.

Finally home, she now gets to start the next one.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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