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Boise State Remembers a President With a Lasting Impact

John Barnes, former university president, FOCUS profile, jk

Barnes at his Meridian home in 2007. Boise State Photographic Services.

John B. Barnes, president of Boise State from 1967 to 1977, died this week at age 89.

Barnes shepherded the school through several incarnations from Boise College to Boise State University, and was the guiding force behind many of the athletics, academic and housing facilities that still define campus — including Bronco Stadium. The residence halls built during his tenure, then called Towers Hall, now bear his name.

“The Boise State family has lost a great leader and friend,” said Boise State President Bob Kustra. “Though we mourn John Barnes’ death, we celebrate his legacy through the bold and thriving campus his vision helped create.”

When Barnes started, most of the academic programs were run from the Administration Building, but he could foresee the growth and expansion that awaited a campus entrenched in one of the West’s fast-changing cities.

“My first challenge was to fund new buildings,” he said in 2007 to the Boise State alumni magazine, FOCUS on Boise State University. “We were adding [hundreds of] new students each year and I was hiring faculty like mad. … I knew this wouldn’t be a small place for long.”

His leadership helped erect the old Business and Economics Building, the Kinesiology Annex, additions to the Library and Student Union, the Special Events Center and the Science Building, which also housed the Nursing program in Barnes’ day.

Gov. Cecil Andrus and John Barnes sign papers making Boise State a university.

Gov. Cecil Andrus and John Barnes sign papers making Boise State a university.

Barnes founded Boise State’s annual “Science Competition Day,” which in 2012 celebrated its 45th year of encouraging science and math skills in Idaho high school students. The university created its influential “Year in Spain” Basque studies program during his tenure. He helped persuade the Legislature and then-Gov. Cecil Andrus to grant university status to campus in 1974.

His efforts to boost the school’s athletics programs earned Barnes a place in the Boise State Hall of Fame in 1998. He was instrumental in Boise State joining the Big Sky Conference, oversaw the creation of the Bronco Athletic Association and started building the case for the Pavilion, now known as Taco Bell Arena.

Barnes was an advocate for the kind of achievement-minded students who continue to find great opportunity at Boise State.

“The world cries out for people who have the skills, knowledge, and motivation to contribute,” he wrote to incoming students in 1968. “While you are here, develop as fully as possible all of these talents and attitudes. When you leave this college, give in full measure to whatever career you choose and in whatever city you live. Don’t be content to let history shape you. Make your biography help shape the unmolded history that lies ahead.”

Barnes’ wife, Shirley, died Jan. 10, 2010. He is survived by their daughters,

Brandee Lynn Meissner and Rebecca Kay Wallace; grandchildren, Robin Brown, and Scott Meissner Jr.; and his sister, Mollie Belle Cooke of Iowa, La.

Per his wishes, there will be no services. To share memories with the family please visit John’s memorial webpage at


Media Contact: Greg Hahn, University Communications, (208) 426-5391,

About Boise State University

A public metropolitan research university with more than 22,000 students, Boise State is proud to be powered by creativity and innovation. Located in Idaho’s capital city, the university has a growing research agenda and plays a crucial role in the region’s knowledge economy and famed quality of life. In the past 10 years, the university has quadrupled the number of doctoral degrees, doubled its masters degrees and now offers 13 online degree programs. Learn more at



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