Date of Birth: 1933
Date of Death:
Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan
Making a Difference with Compassion and a Lively Spirit
Born the eldest of three children in 1933, Barbara Mayer says she was born “lucky” to two loving parents who provided her with a comfortable childhood and instilled in her the belief that those who are fortunate are obligated to help those who are not—a belief later cemented by the example set by her mother-in-law.
Barbara graduated from Central High School in Detroit in 1951 and attended Michigan State University for two years, leaving to marry Myron Gordon in 1952. Their son, Robert Gordon, was born in 1954. The marriage ended, but she was fortunate to meet John Mayer. They married in 1958 and would share 55 wonderful years which ended with his passing in 2014. They would have three more children, David, born in 1959, Amy in 1963 and Nancy in 1965. Prior to David’s birth, Barbara completed her education, earning a degree in elementary education from the University of Detroit in 1959 and began teaching second grade in 1960.
The 1980s would mark the beginning of a more than forty-year career as a volunteer in the Jewish and general communities. In 1980, seven families from Temple Beth Jacob in Pontiac stepped forward to sponsor immigrants from Vietnam: the Vietnamese Boat People. The Mayers were among the seven. Their Vietnamese family became an integral part of the Mayer family. Their friendship has continued to this day: Barbara has proudly witnessed their becoming American citizens, succeeding financially, and raising beautiful and productive children.
But that was not the only project Barbara undertook. During that same time, she joined the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), where her desire to meet the needs of children found an outlet in multiple projects. She served as a chair of NCJW’s Children’s Literacy Program, working with first graders in Ferndale, Michigan. And she became deeply involved with Orchards Children’s Services, now an independent agency, but then an NCJW program. She was there at the ”birth” of Orchard’s Foster Care initiative, serving as chair for three years, and becoming a foster parent herself for four months. She credits “watching it thrive along with the committee and professional staff” as one of her “proudest achievements.”
Yet another NCJW program to which Barbara has given her time is CASA (Children’s Advocates). CASA volunteers work with Oakland County Probate Court, handling short-term review of minors, ages six and under, in guardianship situations. Barbara counts more than 20 years as a CASA volunteer. Early in the program, when oversight extended to teenagers, Barbara also worked with one teen in a residential home who, now grown, remains part of Barbara’s life today.
For many years, Barbara was also active in the Pontiac community, working with Allice Harreston at the Methodist Church on Baldwin, where Alice was director of a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Barbara served as her unofficial assistant.
Barbara’s good work has not gone unnoticed. She was honored In Lansing in the early 1980s for her work with Orchard’s Foster Care Initiative. In 2009 she was the recipient of NCJW’S Ann Rubin Volunteer Award, given to one who “works on behalf of NCJW and contributes to its mandate of service for the welfare of others.” And in 2019 she was honored by Orchard’s Children’s Service with the Carol Klein Women’s Leadership Award, one of two NCJW women to be the initial recipients of this award. It recognized Barbara’s more than forty years of support for the agency.
Written by Barbara Grant