Ron Barks at home in Scituate and the world

Ron Barks at home in Scituate and the world

Ron Barks grew up in Hawthorne, New Jersey. From his home on top of First Watchung Mountain he developed an insatiable curiosity about what lay beyond.

“(The mountain) really had a big influence on my life,” he declares. “I used to sit on the edge of a cliff and look across the Passaic River Valley to New York City. I would wonder where all the roads and rivers and railroad tracks went. I wanted to go to the city and find out about the rest of the world.” In fact, he did just that and then some.

Barks has traveled to 22 nations, all 50 states, and six continents and been around the world twice. He has lived in eight states, been to Japan eight times, and speaks three languages. Besides all that, he came back from a near death experience during which doctors believed he had actually died.

Now 80, Ron has resided in Scituate for the last 18 years, and he still has a hunger to learn and to share what he discovers with audiences and groups. In fact, he regularly does so in public talks and seminars on a variety of subjects based on his experiences and his research. He offers them at colleges, universities, libraries, and other facilities and has presented at the Scituate Senior Center and the Manton Library in Chepachet, among others.

He says his entire life has been shaped by his family origins and the formative experiences of living on that mountain. Home to a quarry where basalt was mined for use in road construction, First Mount Watchung also yielded exquisite specimens of amethyst, prehnite, and quartz crystals. They are of such fine quality that they are included in important collections at educational institutions all across the country.

Ron began collecting specimens from the quarry himself when he was 10 or 12, and he soon developed a deep interest in learning how they came into being. So much so that when it was time for college he pursued a bachelor’s degree in geology from Princeton University.

Growing up in a three-generation household where he absorbed the German language his Hungarian grandparents spoke, he also later learned French in school. His hunger for knowledge about his heritage and the cultures from which it sprang fueled a passion to learn about them.

“A few months after graduating from Princeton, I married my high school sweetheart, Ruth. She became my strongest supporter and best adviser in my quest to achieve my life objectives, which she made hers as well,” he notes. The Barkses have two children, Jennine and James.

Following Princeton, Ron pursued advanced graduate work, earning a Ph.D. from Penn State in geochemistry with a specialization in crystal growth. His dissertation research included growing his own crystals. It was, he says, one of the first such degree projects in the country, and he says it made him sought after professionally.

Ultimately, he ended up taking a position with the Norton Company in Worcester, Mass., an international concern, becoming worldwide director of research and development in the vitrified products division. It was his work with Norton that brought him to Japan and allowed him to meet a counterpart in the company’s branch in Kure who was the sole survivor in his family of the atom bomb blast that destroyed Hiroshima and brought an end to World War II in the Pacific.

“He was on an errand about one mile away from ground zero when the bomb detonated,” Barks recounts. “When he turned around and looked back, Hiroshima was gone. His family was gone.”

The encounter with the man in Kure almost seemed a prophetic link when Ron later got a job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where the bomb had been developed. His time and work at the facility eventually helped him form the basis of a compelling lecture on the place and the creation of the atomic bomb.

His role as director of the industrial applications office at Los Alamos was the start of a whole new program designed to transfer government-initiated technology to appropriate private industry in the United States and create ways to monetize it. As far as Ron knows he was a pioneer, the first person in America to helm such an office. It required him to qualify for a top secret security clearance, which he did.

“I’ve had a fascinating life – a lot of firsts,” he observes.

He also came extremely close to not living to tell about any of them. On January 25, 1995, at age 56 while skiing in Santa Fe with his daughter Jennine, Ron suffered a heart attack on the chair lift. Jennine’s quick thinking and the fortunate presence of a doctor and rescue personnel with defibrillating equipment made it possible to resuscitate him. The physician later commented that Ron’s will to live played a major role in his survival.

An article in the local paper, The New Mexican, quoted Dr. Richard Liberman as saying, “It was partly his decision to stay alive. He basically chose to live, we think.”

The experience forms the basis for one of Ron’s most compelling lectures. He will give it on June 6 at 7 p.m. in the Old Town Hall in nearby Thompson, Conn., where he lived for 20 years before relocating to Santa Fe. He also gives talks on reconciling religion and science and the history of ethnic conquests.

“My life has been full beyond anything I could imagine, including surviving death,” he sums up.

Bottom Lines

Pop Quiz: What major international organization gave serious consideration to locating its world headquarters in the Chopmist Hill area of North Scituate right after World War II? The first one to email the right answer to me at smithpublarry@gmail.com gets a shout out. Extra points if you can tell what made the site so attractive.