In this column I sometimes introduce new staff and volunteers or bid farewell to folks who are departing. I’m very pleased this month to have a uniquely different purpose—to draw special attention to one of our dedicated, hard-working, and talented staff members.
In 1977, when I first began my work at Friends Journal, I met the newly-hired "layout" staff person, Barbara Benton. She had arrived in April, just a month or so before I had, having come to us from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, where she worked on their newsletter. Back then, page design was done by making a series of hand sketches of each two-page "spread" of the magazine, then transforming them through a careful hand paste-up process to "mechanicals" the printer would photograph and print. Barbara was fairly new at this, but she had then—as she does now—a plucky willingness to try new things and to master them. She quickly decided that she wanted a degree in Graphic Design to enhance her skills and went to Tyler School of Art to get that training. I remember having many discussions with her about ways to make our pages more lively and beautiful.
Times have changed, and graphic design has evolved into a computer operation. Today, as art director, Barbara has superbly mastered doing page design and layout using computer programs such as CorelDraw, PageMaker, QuarkXpress, Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, and InDesign. She did not take to computers with the ease that younger generations possess, yet she has become impressively expert not only at using her very complex graphic design programs, but also in trouble-shooting the many problems that can arise in their use or with the hardware that supports them. She always impresses me with her willingness to keep on learning, to try new things, to go back to the computer and to redesign page layouts that we editors (and interns) have critiqued and found wanting in some way. Over the years, she has accumulated several file cabinets full of photos and art for possible use in our pages. She’s been such a regular presence at the Philadelphia Free Library that she has special permission to look through material not generally made directly available to the public. And she’s scoured the Internet for sources of free graphics that can be used to enhance the magazine and our website. Year after year she has produced fresh and lovely—sometimes extraordinarily beautiful—page layouts for our covers and feature articles. She amazes me every month.
Barbara was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and learned about Quakerism when her brother arranged to do his alternative service during the ’60s with American Friends Service Committee. She was interested in Quakers and chose to relocate to Philadelphia where she knew she would "find lots of them." She values the time she spends working with the interface between words and images, with the goal of creating a clear and meaningful vehicle for communicating ideas that are meaningful for her as well as our readers. ("Sure beats designing cereal boxes!" she says with typical humor.) Almost every month she finds something personally important to her in the new feature article manuscripts that are handed to her—and she marvels that she is paid to read and think about it. Not a Friend when she first came to us, she became a convinced member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting many years ago.
Barbara reached her 30th anniversary with Friends Journal this past April, a huge milestone in this era for any organization’s staff. For you who keep decades of Friends Journal copies on your shelf, compare the design of our pages before 1977 to those of the following 30 years, and you will see what an immense contribution Barbara has made to Quaker communication. She has set an award-winning standard, and done so with modesty, humility, and openness. I hope you will join me in congratulating her on her excellent and faithful work in service to us all.