When Barbara Archer was growing up, she wanted to be an astronaut.
Like lots of small dreamers…who want to be an astronaut. A hockey player. A movie star. A famous ballerina.
How do you become an astronaut? You follow every rocket takeoff and landing closely. You listen, rapt, to scientists; your idol is John Glenn. You study hard and you stay focused. And you passionately commit to what you believe in.
That’s how Barbara propelled herself into the NASA Space program, on her way to becoming an astronaut. She made it through the first rounds of applications, but then was let go, like many, from the extraordinarily competitive program. She got the letter, she burst into tears, she ripped it to bits. To this day, she can’t always keep her feet on the ground — she’s gone sky diving, floated on a Zero Gravity flight, co-piloted a fighter plane and follows the space station on her iPad so she always knows when it’s close and most recently delighted in the Mars landing.
Barbara received a degree in medical technology; pivoted to supervise an industrial chemistry lab, and became a reliability engineer. Then, she got an MBA and worked in consumer marketing; Barbara is someone who is always learning, driven by her passions. And Barbara is aware when she knows best. That’s how she felt when looking at advice from a financial planner, who couldn’t answer her questions. Barbara knew she could do it better herself; she studied, became a financial advisor, and is careful to always know and always explain the answers.
As Barbara became more successful, she continued to become more involved in the community, following her passions and making significant contributions to those causes close to her heart. She works to help underprivileged communities access health care solutions at St. Louis’s Mercy Clinic; she is on the board of the nation’s number one zoo, in St Louis, where they offer programming for kids who have never seen a giraffe or a zebra and have only had a chance to see one small slice of the world.
And where Barbara is most passionate is in her work for COCA, the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis. The little girl who wanted to be an astronaut ALSO wanted to be a ballerina; Barbara took her children to tumble and music classes, took herself to ballet, and to flamenco, and to tango classes. She knew the impact arts had to feed her own soul, so she made sure that other children who might not have had opportunities could not only take classes, but have the shoes they needed for those classes; the tights, the leotards, and the transportation.
One day, when she was in her mid 40’s, watching the children being bussed to get exposure to arts and music and dance that might someday open doors for them, Barbara realized with a start that in fact she once was one of those children. She came from a modest family, in a modest town. Her father drew her out a piano when she wanted to learn to play; they couldn’t afford a real instrument. That little girl had her world opened by music and dance; Barbara today is the result of determination, and perseverance, and passion and conviction, and art in her soul.
We all have minor regrets here and there; Barbara has only one big regret in a lovely life that she built by following paths and opportunities. Long ago, perhaps she shouldn’t have torn up that letter from the space program — the letter signed by Neil Armstrong.