Joseph Theodore Barna
{ "" }
Share Joseph's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share
Joseph Theodore Barna died on June 8, 2014 at the Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, from a combination of illnesses. He was 65.

He was born in 1949 in Middlebury, Vermont, the son of Robert and Lillian Barna. He moved with them to Brandon, Vermont, when they came to teach at Brandon High School and Otter Valley Union High School. He graduated from Otter Valley in 1967. He is in that school's Hall of Fame as part of a debating team that was the first in Vermont to win three state championships in successive years. When Otter Valley opened in 1961, the stage had an electrical panel that only he could understand; he organized a group he called The Stage Crew that supported dramatic productions and ran their lighting. In the summer, he worked backstage at Middlebury College.

He went on to graduate from Yale College. While there, he put together a group that performed light shows, one of the first such presentations. At one point it provided background visuals for a concert at the legendary Fillmore East Auditorium.

He went on to graduate from the Yale School of Dramatics. His thesis there was one of the first computer programs for organizing theater lighting; later he would come back on a temporary basis to teach their course on electrical work.

While living in Connecticut he worked as a computer programmer, drove a municipal bus, did a variety of theatrical work, was a photographer, and wrote commentaries for Connecticut Public Radio. It was in this period that he converted a former school bus into a fully equipped camper, which he and his friends used to go across the country and back.

His ingenuity in working with wood was clear from childhood, when he made miniature balsa wood models that included a working rolltop desk. At one of the productions where he was technical director, the initials WWJD did not mean What Would Jesus Do? but What Would Joe Do?

He moved to Oregon, where he did technical work for a dance company. When he moved to the New York City area, he was the technical director for productions that included one on Broadway. He was one of the leading photographers for New York City's Pride Parade.

He was an amateur historian of wooden roller coasters and traveled around the country to document almost all of them. At one point he appeared on Oprah Winfrey's television show That's Incredible with his roller-coaster-riding dog Zonker. Among his art forms, he was one of the last of the great hitchhikers, with Zonker helping him to persuade drivers to stop. He has written a book about those years, which I will put into digital form and distribute.

His photography has documented many facets of American life: signs, fire hydrants, groupings of images unique to his imagination. In later life, he did volunteer theatrical work, was part of construction crews, and taught middle school mathematics.

He is survived by his brother, by his nephew Damon Barna, by several cousins, and by many, many friends. Anyone interested in helping to organize a memorial service or obtaining a copy of Joe's book should contact Ed Barna via, by writing to 7 Forbes Circle in Middlebury, or calling 388-0247.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Bison-Panther Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Otter Valley Union High School. 2997 Franklin St., Brandon, VT 05733.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Rutland Herald from Jun. 12 to Jun. 13, 2014.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
8 entries
May 4, 2018
I was so found of Joe and Zonker lost Coasters revisiting pages ..i m sad today ...i did not know that Joe was no more with us .
thierry Lacheray
November 4, 2016
Please, was Joe Barna the person who did light shows in New Haven, as well as the Exit Coffee house in the early 1970's? If he is, he was such an awesome person, and I was totally blown away by his shows. I remember writing as such on a napkin and giving it to him. On another occasion he showed me the same napkin which he said he looked at often. I only wished I had looked for him earlier and let him know again how much he was appreciated. I hope I hear back from the family. Sincerely, Marge Hiller and yes I married John Hiller ED of the Exit.
Marge HIller
July 10, 2014
Joe and Zonker
Who but Joe would think of training a dog to ride a coaster?

Who but Joe would think to round up enough hefty friends to lift an abandoned roller-coaster car into a pickup truck, to get it to a museum.
Who but Joe would carry on an hour long email exchange with me while we watch on TV, in our homes miles apart, a circus performer cross the lower grand canyon on a tightrope?

Who but Joe would learn to embroider, and then create a club logo onto a bluejean jacket?

Who but Joe would love a dog as he loved Zonker?

All these things I admired. I have lost a very dear friend.
Marie Sacré
marie sacre
June 19, 2014
My friends and I got to know Joe and his dog Inu because every night they would walk by our stoop. Joe told us all about riding roller coasters with his dog, driving the bus at Yale and so many more stories. He was such a charming and kind person and we loved having him as part of the community in Jersey City. We will miss him greatly.
June 18, 2014
Joe and Enu were fixtures here in the Jersey City Heights. He walked up to me and said 'I was hoping to run into you.' and told me he was going into the hospital and wished me well. Me? He's been on my mind ever since. So very sorry to hear that he passed. A truly sweet soul.
Greg Voth
June 14, 2014
Such a loss. His passing leaves a void which cannot be filled. This is very, very sad news.
Virgil Osborn
June 14, 2014
Our condolences on the loss of your brother.

Patty & Frank Miglorie
Edenton NC
June 13, 2014
This news is very jarring. Joe was more than just another fellow student at Otter Valley, Walt's brother, and my friend. He was my light show "Boss." Ever since I joined stage crew, he called on me at all hours, sometimes bringing me to New Haven to work for him. This indeed a sad day. I shall miss him greatly.
Ken Lizotte
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences