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Remembering Barry Komisaruk

Ned Groth, April 2020

(Author’s note: Barry was with us at Darrow just briefly, he arrived at the start of our junior year and left before the year ended, so we didn't know him very well. When I took over as class agent, he was listed as "lost," had been so for almost a decade, and he remained so forever; I never tracked him down, and we never heard from him again. He couldn't contribute to any newsletters or attend any reunions. He didn't leave much of a trail in the yearbook for the year or part of a year he was there. So there's not much to write about him. But, there was one fairly remarkable post-Darrow encounter to report, and I think even a guy with slim ties to our class deserves a memorial, even a minimal one like this. My goal, as always, has been to create an honest portrait. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but take full responsibility for any errors. This can be amended, if need be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)


The theme of this one probably should be, "Barry, we hardly knew ye." This very grainy shot of Barry is all we've got (it's cropped from the cropped junior class yearbook photo below). From that (1961) yearbook it appears that Barry arrived as a junior in the fall of 1960, played JV football (other photo, next page). He does not appear anywhere else in the yearbook, not in winter or spring sports photos, and if he participated in any extracurricular activities, he managed to miss the photos. I am pretty sure he departed in the middle of the year—maybe after Christmas vacation, maybe even earlier, possibly over the fall Long Weekend in early November. Every now and then a kid would "disappear" like that, and generally we'd hear some sort of rumors—that he flunked out, he got thrown out for one reason or another, maybe he hated it and just withdrew, or the family ran out of money, or decided he belonged somewhere else and yanked him out. But in Barry's case, I don't remember any scuttlebutt. He was just there for a while, and then he wasn't.


 Since Darrow was such a small place, everyone sort of knew everyone, and I tried to get to know most people, but I hardly knew Barry. He was a redhead, he always seemed to need a shave, he was short and strongly built, a fireplug body. He came from New York City or one of its suburbs and he had a city-kid, street-smart swagger about him. We had a couple of guys who thought they were gangsters; Barry wasn't like that, he was just relaxed and confident with kind of a "Don't give me any shit and I won't bother you" attitude. He is smiling in these photos and I have a vague sense that he seemed pretty happy, was sometimes inclined to crack wise, and he always smelled like cigarette smoke—he was old enough to have smoking permission and was an addict. I don't think he was in any of my classes and we didn't play the same sports or live in the same dorm.


That's about all I remember about him, and I'm not even sure it's all true. At one point (a few years ago, when I had just learned he had passed away and was getting ready to try to write this), I sent out the usual request for help, and got nothing. No one recalled rooming with him, or playing football with him, or hanging out together at the smoking shack. (If reading this stimulates any memories, send them along and we can expand the memorial.)


The rest of this memorial, therefore, after one amusing digression, is mostly about my fruitless efforts to find Barry, when he was on our "lost" list. I came close a couple of times, but by the time I finally managed to contact one of his children, in hopes of getting his number, she sadly told me he had died many years previously. 


So, on with the story, such as it is. Fast forward to July 1963. I had finished my freshman year at Princeton and had a summer job at the university. Joe Coffee, who roomed with me junior and senior years at Darrow, was at home in Lawrenceville for the summer. We took the bus from Princeton into NYC to see the Mets play the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was pitching that night, the Mets sucked, we hoped we might see a no-hitter. Instead saw a 2-hit shutout, a routine night's work for Koufax. After the game Joe & I decided to go down to Greenwich Village for some beer and jazz. We got on the subway, and after a while I noticed, standing no more than 10 feet away from us, was Barry. So, we walked over and went, "Aren't you Barry?" And "Oh wow, Hi, How are ya's" ensued. We probably asked him what he'd been up to since we last saw him and he probably told us in some vague general way, but I don't remember what he said. I'm not sure he knew who we were or had any desire to talk about his brief time at Darrow. I was just amazed to run into him (although that was one of four or five similar strange encounters I had that evening—but that's another story.) Barry might have also been to the Mets game, or maybe he got on the subway somewhere else. He got off before we got to the Village, we waved 'bye, and never saw him again.


Fast forward some more, it's now the 1970s, I am writing class newsletters, but Barry is "lost." Through the 1980s, he is still lost, the school has never heard from him. Along about 1990, after Al Gore invented the internet and we got our first computer, I began using those "people finder" search engines. For a while I thought I had a really great lead. There was a professor named Barry Komisaruk in the Psychology Department at Rutgers. He had a robust online profile, and he was a sex researcher—he had done studies of female orgasm. (In fact, among professional sexologists, he might be considered a leading authority – insofar as a man can be – on female orgasm.)  So I began thinking, if this is our guy, and I can get him back into the fold, he might have some really good stories to liven up our reunions. Alas, crash go the fantasies. I finally made contact with professor Komisaruk and he informed me that he was sorry, he's not the one we want, he's not the one we need. Wrong middle initial, it turns out. Rutgers professor is Barry R. Our guy is Barry S. So, back to Square 1, re-start the search engines.


My searches tended to come at 5-year intervals, as I tried to round up our "lost sheep" in advance of each major reunion. As the people finders got better I began closing on on the real Barry S. Komisaruk. By 2012, with the 50thapproaching, I stepped up my efforts. I found what looked like a warm trail—Barry S., born in 1943 so he's the right age, two recent addresses in Okemos, MI. I sent a letter, but it came back as undeliverable. (That's the trouble with the search engines, the address you get might be 20 years old.) But as luck would have it, I was also then trying to track down Robin Humphrey—sad to say, his memorial is being posted with this one—and Robin's son Randy also lived in Okemos, MI at that time. I was able to call Randy, had a nice chat with him, and asked if he would try to find Barry for me. When I gave him Barry's address, he said it was two minutes from where he lived, and he'd be happy to go ring the bell. Randy did that, and called me back a few days later. Barry didn't live there any more, and the folks who were there now had never heard of him. This is how it often goes with lost sheep.


The people-finders generally also give you names of people who lived at the same address at the same time as your target, who are likely to be family members. In 2016, in the run-up to our 55th, I went to the next level, trying to find a relative of Barry's. I sent an email to five people whose names and emails had been spit out by a search engine, and I heard back from one of them, his daughter, Kelly Hoyt. She informed me that I had found the right guy at last, but unfortunately, he had passed away 21 years before—in 1995. "A week after I graduated high school, he suffered a second heart attack, and did not survive." She said Barry left behind another daughter, Sarah, Kelly's older sister, and a wife, Sue. Kelly said she, her sister and their mom all live in Florida now. 


She said she had been close to her father, and he was a big part of her life, but that he didn't share much about his younger years. She hadn't heard about his time at Darrow and was delighted to see the yearbook photos (the ones you see here) that I sent to her. At the time, Kelly and I planned to exchange more information about Barry, but I got distracted (my 50th college reunion, etc.) and we never followed through with that. I'll try to get back in touch with her now, to see if the biography here can be improved, and if anyone else has any memories to share, I'll be happy to pass them on to Barry's family. 


At this stage, aside from our memories from junior year and the rest of what's related here, all we know is that Barry had a life, a wife, two kids, and a career of some sort, which we know virtually nothing about, and that he died far, far too young, he was just 52.


I wish there had been more material for a better memorial, and if I do end up talking Kelly or her sister or mother, perhaps I'll learn more and revise this. But I decided, given our confined status, I do have enough to write THIS memorial. Given the short while Barry was in our class, it's probably enough, and certainly more than he'd ever have expected. So I have stopped procrastinating and just done it. So, so long, Barry, I wish we'd known you better, I hope you had a pretty good life, sorry you never made it to our reunions, and so sorry you left us so soon.


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