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For over hundreds of years, freemasonry has stood as the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. It’s a renowned brotherhood with a chief mission to help good men become better men. Members include distinguished historical figures such as George Washington, Davy Crockett, and Harry S. Truman, among other leaders in our nation’s history. In Missouri, the Masonic Home has been a charitable organization where masons provide assistance to individuals and communities in need. Many have been helped through its services, but one key player has been instrumental behind the scenes: a woman, named Barbara Ramsey.
For over a decade, Barbara has dedicated her professional career to the Masonic Home, and in 2013 she was named the executive director. In this position, she supervises the whole corporation and is responsible for all day-to-day operations. In her own words, “I am a female running their biggest charity, working with an all male board for the Masonic Home of Missouri.”
Barbara’s favorite part, she explains, “is the opportunity to help people. The staff here that I work with are such great, innovative and hard-working people. Everyone here is willing to help and see what we can do better and different. We’re part of a charity that’s been here for over 125 years, and we all want to make sure that its here after we’re gone for another 125.”
Barbara’s interest in service developed during her undergraduate studies at Westminster College, in Fulton, after her grandfather developed Alzheimer’s. The impact the disease had on her family, particularly on her grandmother, left a lasting impression. After graduating with her bachelor’s in psychology, Barbara set out to learn and understand the world of senior care. She found jobs at a nursing home and a social security administration where she soon realized that, to influence policy, she would be most effective in an administrative role.
“I wanted to run things,” she says. “I wanted to really figure out how to fix things for families and how to make things work for people.”
So Ramsey returned to school, this time to MU, for a master’s in public administration. Upon graduating, in 2001, Barbara still had no idea what her next move would be. She applied for a blind ad in the newspaper.
“It was for someplace called the Masonic Home of Missouri,” she says. “I didn’t know what a masonic home was or what masons were,” she continued. “But the ad was sort of perfect for me. They wanted someone who knew about working with the elderly, Medicare, and Medicaid. It was right up my alley.”
Originally hired as the director of outreach services, Barbara was in charge of providing assistance programs that helped seniors stay in their own homes and communities. Since then, she’s not only helped to expand programs, but was also instrumental in the creation of one, Creating-A-Partnership, a matching funds program that partners with lodges and chapters (local masonic societies) to help local children in need. In the 2016 fiscal year, the program provided over $257,800 in assistance.
Since being named executive director, Barbara has also had successes nationwide. She was elected to the Masonic Communities and Services Association’s board of directors, where she runs the outreach committee, serves as secretary of the board, and is, again, the only female.
When asked if this ever makes her nervous, her response was a simple but resounding no. “Even though they may be men, in a male fraternity and organization, I believe that I do really understand the charitable purpose and the history of the organization,” Ramsey says. “I respect it. I don’t ever feel like, because I’m not a man or because I’m not a mason, that I don’t understand. I feel like I very passionately understand who they help and why they help them.”
Although it sometimes may be hard to enter the room being the only “different” one, Barbara wants to show people that she is an unstoppable force. Mostly, she wants to show her daughters.
“Having two girls helps,” she says. “I really do want them to know that they can do anything. They can lead a company that is clearly a male-dominated, fraternal type of organization. And I want them to see that you can be strong and successful and grow and change things, even when people are sort of pushing back and fighting against you.”
As a self-proclaimed natural introvert, Barbara says that having confidence is vital to breaking down those barriers. She understands that making sure your voice is heard can be a challenging task. But remembering your identity and your mission — at least for her — makes everything worth fighting for.