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Barbara and Daniel Watson plant seeds of service
Great Bend couple spend their retirement helping others
Barbara and Daniel Watson take a break from preparing Christmas packages at a December Pilot Club meeting to pose for a photo. The Great Bend couple logged more than 6,000 volunteer hours in the past year. - photo by Susan Thacker
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It was like Christmas; sometimes you’d go out there and start pulling weeds and find – oh, here’s something that survived!
Daniel Watson

Barbara and Daniel Watson of Great Bend were always active in the community, but ever since retiring they have logged thousands of hours of volunteer service. In the past year alone, they put in over 6,000 hours helping others – the equivalent of two (or three) full-time jobs.

Readers may know them from their involvement in the Pilot Club of Great Bend, or from the weeks they spend each year selling produce at the farmers market in the Great Bend Public Library parking lot.

Barbara was a speech and debate teacher at Great Bend High School for 31 years before retiring in 2018. Daniel first worked for Sunflower Diversified Services but later finished a graduate program at Fort Hays State University and went to work for CPI, which evolved into CUNA Mutual Group, until he also retired.

Barbara and Daniel joined Pilot Club shortly after her retirement.

“Sally O’Connor, who was a former drama and English teacher at the high school, was in a ton of clubs. But she said, ‘I’m not going to ask you to join any club but Pilot Club,’” Barbara recalled. They focus on brain safety and health and helping others. They are a big sponsor of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Pilot Club has also hosted two area-wide autism workshops. That was a major undertaking that involved securing quality speakers and providing resources to teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents that have children with autism.

Because Pilot Club also promotes brain safety, members are also called “The Helmet People,” providing free bicycle helmets to children in need, and fittings for them.

They used to go to area nursing homes with a BINGO-style game called “BRAIN-O” before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And some of us still volunteer at the nursing homes through Kindred Hospice. We hope to get back to the nursing homes when all of this COVID is completely under control.”

Farmers market

The Watsons also consider their produce stand at the northeast corner of the library parking lot as a service project. A few years before they retired, they took over selling produce for a farmer, Ron Wilson, who couldn't get out to his garden. They’ve signed up for the Kansas Senior Nutrition Program, which gives people who are over 65 access to free garden produce, and they also work with Nancy Sundahl at the Barton County Emergency Aid Association.

How they got here

Barbara and Daniel both grew up in small towns in Oklahoma and met at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

“She was about ready to graduate about the time I started,” Daniel said. “I had worked in the oil field after high school; we’re about the same age but I did other things before I went to college and she started immediately after high school.”

They didn’t date in college but became good friends while hanging out at the Baptist Student Union and the Methodist Student Union.

Barbara finished her degree while Daniel majored in business administration.

After graduation, Barbara looked for a school that needed a debate coach. “Great Bend just seemed like the perfect size of town,” she said. GBHS was her first and only teaching job.

“We stayed in contact after we graduated and I moved here,” she said. “I would still come back around the area where Daniel lived and I helped my grandpa in his garden. I think that’s where we got really close because he would always help me in my grandpa’s garden and he helped me refinish furniture that I brought up here (to Great Bend). He always helped me do things – I got a good one.”

Everything together

From Pilot to gardening – and just about everything else the Watsons do – they are a team. When Barbara was the GBHS debate and speech coach, Daniel was her assistant and would help with travel and tournaments. They’ve also taken courses together through the Great Bend Recreation Commission, signing up for dance, crafts, yoga, Tai Chi and nutrition classes. “Also, we love to take painting classes,” she said. “I’ve even sold some of my artwork at the Farmers Market booth. I painted little angels on rocks.”

Their gardening project started when Ron Wilson was having trouble getting into his own garden, Barbara said.

“A neighbor saw him lying down in between his rows and rolling down the rows to weed,” she said. A teacher at Great Bend USD 428 sent a school-wide email asking for volunteers to help in his garden. “Twenty people said they would but only eight people showed up and only one person came back the second day.” Barbara wasn’t one who’d signed up because she was preparing to take her students to the National Speech and Debate tournament. After that, they went to debate camp. But after she returned home that July, Barbara was asked again if she could help.

“So when I got there, most of the weeds were above my head,” she said. “They had gone crazy.”

“It was really interesting,” Daniel said. “I only helped in the evenings because I was working during the day. It was like Christmas; sometimes you’d go out there and start pulling weeds and find – oh, here’s something that survived! Then we actually used the weeds for mulch.”

After that, Wilson would invite the Watsons to share the bounty of his garden, and eventually they took his spot at the farmers market. Up until last year at least, he was still supervising what they planted for him.

“His garden is just such a love,” Barbara said. “It makes him feel better even though he can’t get out there and do much in it anymore. It brings him great joy.”

Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to and explain their “community connections.”