Mark Barnes had an idyllic childhood, pretty close to perfect in his opinion. Born at the Appling General Hospital on December 12, 1958 on his parents’ fourth anniversary, he already had one sister, and another would come later. His family lived in a tiny house when the children were young, but in 1962, his father, Tommy, built a new home for them. Mark loved his neighborhood; enough children lived there to make two baseball teams and they played every day on the vacant lot right beside his house.
“We’d set up baseball fields or football fields out there on the vacant lot and play until dark thirty,” Mark grinned. “It was a good place to raise kids back then, and in my opinion, it still is.”
From the age of ten, Mark worked in the drug store if he didn’t have to cut grass. His dad allowed him to check in orders and put up stock. He always knew he wanted to serve the people of Baxley by following in his father’s footsteps. Even though most children change their minds several times before deciding on a career, Mark never did. He just knew. When the school had the work study program, he would leave school and go in to work at noon and work the rest of the day. He worked right there until he graduated from Appling County High School in 1976.
In 1981, Mark graduated from Mercer University in Atlanta. Next year he will have been a working pharmacist for 40 years and Barnes Pharmacy will have been in business for 100 years.
Barnes Pharmacy has quite a history and may well be the oldest family-owned business in Baxley. Mark’s grandfather, Tom Barnes, bought the downtown store from a Mrs. Goodman after her husband, Dr. Goodman, died in 1921. Dr. Goodman was one of the first people in Baxley to own and drive a car. Tom had been working with him for quite some time by then. He bought it and ran it for a long time. Both Dr. Fulghum and Dr. Long worked for Tom, who even lent Dr. Fulghum the money to start his own business. Both became successful in their own stores, and Dr. Fulghum paid Grandpa back in full. Everybody survived the Depression. Mark’s daddy came home in ‘53 and started to work as an employee/pharmacist for Grandpa. In 1960, Tommy bought him out.
When Tommy took out the soda fountain, his father was very unhappy. Tommy explained to Mark that the amount of sales was the same as they were with it because running the soda fountain was an expensive venture. Tommy ran the store then, and his dad worked for him a while. In 1981, Mark started working at the store as a pharmacist and in ’86, he became a partner in the business. They closed the little prescription shop in ’88 because they couldn’t find anyone to work there; 1990 saw the closure of the downtown store. It is now used for storage.
“Back when I was a new pharmacist, we filled prescriptions by hand,” Mark said. “We had to physically go and pull the prescription and do the paperwork. We got our first pharmacy computer in 1986, and Daddy had a hard time getting used to it. He would not have bought one if he had had his druthers, but he realized that filling prescriptions by hand took double the time. Also, we were able to link the little prescription shop that he had built over by the hospital to the store downtown, and that saved time. Before that, the shop would call us, and we’d have to look up the name on the computer and find the information for the pharmacist. Bell South had trouble with that because they’d never had a request for that service before. Now it is common. I’m not computer savvy like the young folks, but I can hold my own.”
Mark grew up in a faith-based family; they went to church when the doors opened. He played hard on Sunday afternoons, took a bath, and then went back to church. He fondly remembers falling asleep in his mother, Barbara’s lap at church. Faith had a lot to do with their conduct. He remembers his mother telling him to “remember who you are and whose you are.” That meant not just the Lord’s but his parents’ as well.
“I knew never to disappoint my parents because if I did, Tommy was waiting for me at home,” Mark said. “Besides, I didn’t want to hurt them. I’m sure I disappointed them many times, but I never did it on purpose. My daddy was a calm, laid-back man, but if you lit his fuse, he was bad news.”
Carole, Mark’s wife of 38 years is from Claxton. Her family lives on a family farm halfway between Claxton and Glenville. She went to ABAC first and then to Georgia Southern to earn a degree in Home Economics. While she was at Georgia Southern, she met Mark’s older sister, Karen. When Karen had her first baby, Carole came to bring a gift. That’s when she met Mark, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mark and Carole have two children, and as they were growing up, they taught the girls to seek God’s will in their lives. Mark believes that the girls listened and entered the right professions. Jennifer is a speech therapist for the Cancer Treatment Center of America and loves her job. She sees people in need and can help them. Mark says he can see the enthusiasm in her eyes when she talks about her work. She is married to Thomas Cargile, and they have a five-year-old son, Ethan. Whitney is married to Jon Erwin, and she teaches math at Appling County High School.
“We always suspected Whitney would be a teacher,” Mark laughs. “She’s been teaching since she was six — first to her dolls and now to her students. She and Jon have two children—Karley, who is five and baby Matthew, who is 19 months old. This summer Jon built on to the tree house that Roy Bass built for the girls when they were little. Another generation of the family will enjoy it. I used to play quite a bit of golf, but I’ve discovered that I’d rather be spending time with my grandchildren for now.”
Mark says the main way the pharmacy business has changed during his lifetime is with the expansion and explosion of generic drugs. When he first started, practically no generic drugs existed. Back in his early years, he sold a blister pack of birth-control pills for $3.75. The exact same pack from the same company is now over $100. However, they come in a package of six so he must buy six to be able to sell one. Also, even though the president signed a bill to lower the price of insulin, Mark has seen no change. Apparently, the insurance companies don’t know. Mark believes that greed and liability have a lot to do with the price of drugs.
The Barnes attend Surrency Baptist Church.
“My daddy was the leader and teacher,” Mark laughed. “I’m a pupil of the word.”