"My father was in health-care finance, so he helped me get on with a health-care organization in administration. My degree was in finance with a minor in marketing. My new dream was to be a hospital administrator, but it didn't take long to figure out that working in operations wasn't the best fit for me.
"I started focusing on marketing and public relations. I worked for three large regional health systems. In 1996, I got a phone call from Tom Jones, president and CEO of St. Mary's Hospital. I was hired as their vice president of marketing. We had a wonderful team and won a lot of awards.
"After they formed the Genesis Hospital System, an affiliation involving St. Mary's, Cabell-Huntington and Pleasant Valley hospitals, they appointed me vice president to oversee marketing and advertising. After a year or two, I sensed the system wasn't going to work. Each hospital had an identity they wanted to preserve.
"So I went to work for the Holzer Health System in Gallipolis. My son was starting kindergarten. I was commuting from Teays Valley to Gallipolis. People had encouraged me for years to start my own firm.
"I asked the Holzer people if I could do everything I already do for them under a contract instead of being vice president, an employee. They approved a three-year arrangement, which allowed me to springboard the start of my agency.
"I probably would not have had the courage to start the Barnes Agency without a client in my pocket. Holzer was the first quarter in the jar. That was 2003.
"I thought I would be immediately successful. It's not that easy. The process of becoming successful in advertising and marketing takes time.
"The best decision I made was six years ago in a random business development call to a lady named Susan Miller, vice president of marketing for Fifth Third Bank. When I met her during that call, I forgot about trying to get their business. All I wanted to do was see if she was available for a date the following Saturday.
"She is our vice president of client services. We are a husband-and-wife team. She's helping our agency go to the next level.
"We are getting on the radar of some highly respected organizations. We're doing a lot of work for Marshall. We got a call from The Greenbrier. They were looking at firms in urban markets out of state but wanted to give us a chance to bid.
"We have produced about six commercials for them that have been placed nationally on CBS, ESPN, the Golf Channel. They have received thousands of calls for reservations. People tell them they called because they saw our commercials.
"My son Trevor is the light of my life. He has had tremendous success in baseball and track and field. When my cousin, Randy, moved back to West Virginia, Trevor became intrigued with the shot put and discus, and Randy worked with him. Trevor was ranked nationally in his age class. We felt he had a wonderful future in athletics.
"In March, I received the most catastrophic news I'd ever heard. My son had scoliosis, and the curve in his spine was so severe it required surgery.
"I met an orthopedic surgeon, Charles Ted Shuff of Scott Depot, one of only two orthopedic surgeons in West Virginia who perform adolescent scoliosis surgery. When I told him how accomplished Trevor was in athletics, I thought it would scare him away. But he said he would be honored to operate on Trevor.
"The surgery was June 3. It was a very long fusion, an eight-hour surgery facedown under anesthesia.
"Now it appears that he will live a healthy, happy life. Dr. Shuff has cleared him for athletics with the exception of football.
"He wants to play baseball again. He realizes it will be a tremendous amount of work.
"The international Scoliosis Research Society heard about Trevor. They said they do not have a single testimonial from a kid who recovered from this surgery and went on to play baseball. They want to do a feature on him.
"If anyone can pull it off, this kid can. He's competitive and driven. He is now in personal training in preparation for sports.
"On Thanksgiving Day, he decided he wanted to go to Hurricane High School and practice with me. I watched him hit, run and field and throw and play his position, and he did it all very well. It was amazing.
"Me and two other guys raised $1 million to turf the athletic facilities at Hurricane High. I never dreamed my son would ever play on the new turf.
"He's overcoming something no one in America has ever overcome. I tell Trevor that maybe his story in life will be that he served as a testament to other kids for what you can do after scoliosis surgery, proof that it can happen.
"I can be pretty fiery. My wife has settled me down. She says I can seem imposing because of my size, but I'm a big kid at heart. I guess the message is this: You can take the boy out of Mission Hollow, but you can't take Mission Hollow out of the boy. Sometimes I have to get 'Mission Hollow' on people, but at the end of the day, I'm pretty compassionate."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.