This past weekend was the memorial for Barbara BurgerLentz who passed away last month. It’s likely some of you don’t know her, because Barb was one of those people that got the work done behind the scenes. She was the co-chair of the Nether Providence Democrats, and for many years a driving force behind the Swarthmore Friends Jumble sale.
I met Barb through politics after the 2016 election. For a time, we’d meet everywhere. With her brightly colored hair and big smile, she stood out in any crowd. The Swarthmore Meeting, tree plantings, community events, protests, vigils, fundraisers. Sometimes it seemed like I saw her almost every day at one event or another.
There were so many people with memories of Barb that I think we ran over the planned time for the memorial service. People spoke of how Barb brought joy to everything and how she’s smiling in almost every photo. I remember committee meetings with Barb where she derailed the agenda with infectious laughter. There was never a dull meeting with Barb. She brought a spark to any event. People spoke about how she was always calm in a crisis. “It’s not a problem.” And that’s true too. She’d get on with the work. Whatever the disaster was, it was never as bad as it appeared. Just get to work. The youth that she taught at First Day School, the Quaker’s version of Sunday School, spoke of how engaging a teacher she was and how she got them involved in the meeting’s work. There were stories of her volunteering spirit. In meetings I helped organize, I often had to ask who would help with this task or that. If Barb was at the meeting, if the silence stretched for more than a few seconds, she’d ask, “what needs to be done.” And it’d get done somehow. She was one of those people with boundless energy. And like my own family, it’s clear from the memorial that Barb’s family contributed greatly to her ability to help out in the community. It’s always a team effort.
I asked Barb’s Democratic co-chair to write something for this piece a while ago, and Commissioner Max Cooper wrote,
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Barb, Lisa, and Lili over the past few months. I was with them when Barb was first diagnosed, helped them navigate local health resources, and when Barb decided that palliative care was her best choice. Over the last several years its been a privilege to work with Barb in our shared efforts to serve our community, I began to understand what motivates her to service, how she works, and how she communicates. But over these past few months I’ve had an inside view over what has made them work as a family. Barb, Lisa, and Lili are all wonderful people made more wonderful together. I can only image the pain and the hole in their hearts that Lisa and Lily feel, it must be immense. Barb leaves a big hole in all our lives. She’s not replaceable. I hope Lisa and Lili know theirs always a place for them at our table, and I hope our community can come together to honor Barb and all she accomplished by continuing her good works.
I hadn’t gotten to see Barb as much lately due to the pandemic. And she was taken from us faster than I think most of us expected. Too soon. It has left a hole in our community where a smile should be. But as would said at the service, she’s not gone. You could feel her presence at the meeting yesterday in all the people she collected and all the joyful memories. Every time I see a squirrel now, I’ll be reminded of Barb.
Tomorrow is Election Day, and I will miss chatting with her outside the polls and catching up with how everyone’s doing. I’m sure Barb would encourage everyone to show up and vote tomorrow and every time. I know others she inspired will be out working at the polls for the community as poll workers, candidates or greeters.
Don’t panic. Be present with joy. And never be afraid to pitch in.