After 51 ½ years with “one foot in the grave,” Rex Maitland Barstow, age 91, finally put the other foot in, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, at his Lewiston home. Born in Moscow, ID, March 23, 1928, and never a smoker, Rex was diagnosed with lung cancer and had his left lung removed at age 40. For about the next 30 years, he and his family endured a month of fear, anxiety and depression in the days leading up to his annual checkup. His cancer never returned, and he lived far longer than he ever expected, seeing a lot that he “would never live to see.”
He saw his children, Ben (Janet) Barstow, Linda (Jeff) Eaton, and LeeAnn (Shawn) Nilsson all married. He saw his wife of 34 years, Donaldean “Donnie” Jenkins Barstow die of melanoma.
He found himself with a second wife, Frances McCoy Hall Barstow and four step-daughters and their families, Connie Davis, Frances “Bo” Flatt, Rose Mary “Posie” LaDow, and Annie Jernberg.
In Rex, they found a father they never really had. He saw his seven grandchildren, Mary Barstow MacDonald, Tyler Barstow, Kyler Nilsson, Allyssa Nilsson Loesch, and Hannah, Rachel and Julia Eaton, all off to college. He lived to see over half of them married, and got to know six great-grandchildren.
His life was longer than either of his parents’, Rexford Walker Barstow and Marguerite Lilly Warren Barstow. He outlived his second wife, Frances, step-daughter Rose Mary, and his siblings, Robert Angus Barstow and Katherine Elizabeth Karo. He finally died, not from long-expected cancer, but from congestive heart failure and TMB (Too Many Birthdays).
Though the dread of a returning cancer occupied the back story of much of his life, Rex was not outwardly defined by it. Many did not even know of his “pulmonary handicap.” Rex was always mechanically inclined, even before age six when he disassembled his mother’s vacuum cleaner (Rex: “I couldn’t figure how to get all those shiny little needle bearings to go back in the motor”).
He was inventive, from beginning to end. Early wringer washing machines were gasoline powered, and he built himself a Maytag-powered go-cart, swapping the engine back when his mother needed to do laundry.
At age 86, when he finally needed oxygen, he hobbled to the shop with his cane, and made devices to keep his oxygen hose from snagging on the dining room chairs.
Stubborn, and a bit of a perfectionist, his solutions were well made and well done, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” except, when Rex said it, there would be a string of swear words instead of an exclamation point.
At age 8, he started stocking shelves at Dickenson’s Grocery across Moscow’s Third Street from where he lived.
As a teenager, he also started working as a “helper” in the plumbing shop at Powell Plumbing and Heating, and Mr. Dickenson told him, “Son, as long as there is a grocery store, someone is going to need a plumber.” He continued working part-time for Powell Plumbing and Heating through high school and college at the University of Idaho.
College was interrupted when the Idaho National Guard’s 148th Field Artillery Battalion was called to active duty, and Rex spent 12 months as a Sergeant assigned to C battery of the US Army’s 96th Field Artillery Battalion in Korea. Upon return, he continued college and worked part-time for Powells’, married Donaldean Jenkins, of Colfax June 13, 1954, and finally graduated (BS Agriculture) in 1956.
Electing to follow the grocer’s advice, he chose plumbing as a career. In the fall of 1958, he and Donnie moved to Orofino where they made many lifelong friends. They started Barstow Plumbing and Heating which they owned and operated together until 1966. At that time, he decided to close his business and go back to working for a union shop. “The best thing about working for someone else,” he said, “is that you always get paid.” The family moved to Lewiston in 1969, but continued to return to Dworshak and the North Fork for fishing and camping. Rex worked for various shops and contractors for the next 25 years, initially as a plumber and later as a pipefitter.
While working, he taught the plumbing apprenticeship course at night for 10 years, and after retirement, worked part-time for the city of Lewiston as a plumbing and gas inspector.
He plumbed houses and buildings and laid water and sewer lines from Anatone to the Forest Service’s Kelly Creek Work Center, and from Grangeville to Colfax. He worked on U of I’s Ag Science Building, the Kaiser works in Spokane Valley, Dworshak Dam, the Satsop Nuclear Plants (WPPS), and for various contractors on major projects at PFI.
This story probably best illustrates his career.
The vessel for the new bleach plant at the Lewiston pulp mill was due to arrive via truck as what we would now refer to as a megaload. The manufacturer’s representative asked the job superintendent who would be the best man to put in charge of unloading the very large and delicate vessel. His response was, “Well, you probably won’t get along with him, but if you want it done right, give it to Rex Barstow.”
In retirement, he spent more time fishing, cracking walnuts and giving them away, making dill pickles, cutting firewood at the family’s Moscow Mountain cabin, tending his raspberry patch, making fruitcake, picking huckleberries, and doing some traveling. He and Frances enjoyed the Orofino dance club and Wilderness Gateway jam sessions, traveling to his Army reunions, and the local veterans coffee club.
His family would like you to join them Sunday afternoon, March 1, at the Lewiston VFW Hall, 1104 Warner Ave., from 12 to 3 p.m. Food and beverages will be served.
Rex’s family would like to thank Advanced Care Hospice for their wonderful care of Rex. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the LC Valley, 1021 Burrell Ave., Lewiston 83501.