Former PdC principal, coach succumbs to COVID-19 fight

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Duane Bark, Markesan district administrator, also spent nine years of his career in education and coaching at Prairie du Chien High School.

Courtesy of From the Maroons to the Hawks Facebook page is this photo of the 1997 Prairie du Chien football coaches: (front row) John McKinley, Terry Slack, Mark McWilliams, Bill Stuart, Ron Sedgwick; (back row) Dennis Kazor, Aaron Amundson, Dave Antoniewicz, Andy Banasik, Duane Bark and Bob Vuillemot.

By David Timmerman


Brad Bark remembered that Friday in early August very well. He came home early from work to video chat with his father, Duane. 

Brad and the rest of the family came together to talk to Duane, because he was about to be placed in a medically-induced coma and put on a ventilator in an attempt to aid his battle against the effects of COVID-19.

“He was just saying how much he loved us,” Brad recalled of his father showing so much composure while his children and grandchildren were breaking down and crying, not knowing if that moment was goodbye or not.

Then, Brad remembered his father saying “You guys, I am going to be OK.” 

That phrase was not downplaying the situation, it was the senior Bark telling his family he was prepared, he was a man who had faith, and he hoped it would carry him and his family through the ailment, whatever the outcome.

Brad emphasized that faith and support of people across the region and beyond helped his family through the ups and downs of the past few months, when one ray of hope glimmered and then was dashed by waves of bad news. Since Duane passed on Oct. 7, it has also helped them get through each day.

Duane Bark was born in Lancaster and attended the Iowa-Grant school system. In his career, he served as high school principal and administrator at Prairie du Chien Schools for nine years, departing in 2002, then going to Riverdale Schools and eventually Markesan.

The Bark family’s COVID-19 story began a month before that video chat, and three months before he passed away, when a family friend stopped by for only a few minutes to talk one day in early July. It is believed the friend was in the early stages of COVID-19, not known to them at the time. Then, soon Duane, his wife Pamela, their daughter Brittany, and Pamela’s mother, Charlotte, were all infected with the coronavirus.

Things progressed and, at one point, all four of them were in the hospital. Pamela recovered, but even had to go back into the hospital as COVID-19 returned for her.

Of the four infected, there was at least one who had a preexisting condition, but it wasn’t Duane. “My dad was extremely healthy,” Brad said.

Yet Duane was the one most greatly affected.

A few weeks after infection, everyone else was out of the hospital, but Duane was having problems. “His symptoms got a little bit worse, a little bit worse,” Brad recalled of the updates. He remembered being shown the damage that was being done to his dad’s lungs, the common scarring with this type of virus. “It created a lot of rubble in his lungs,” Brad stated.

Still, in the months since the pandemic hit, a lot was learned about treating COVID-19, and the mortality rate seemed to slow. “You see so many success stories,” Brad said.

And, the outpouring of support soon came flooding in. Brad said they had people praying for his dad in every state in the country, and abroad in places like Australia. Bark Strong signs began popping up in each of the communities Duane worked and grew up in.

At the time Duane got exposed to COVID, he was in the process of trying to safely reopen the schools in Markesan for fall. He was the district administrator there, his latest position in a long career in education that started at River Valley, took him to Prairie du Chien, Muscoda and Durant, Iowa—from teaching physical education and coaching, to becoming principal and then administrator.

He had been talking virtually with public health officials, trying to see if a hybrid model or something else was best for his district. “My dad was very cautious,” Brad said of encountering COVID. “He would go well above and beyond.”

All of those communities showed support in different ways. Brad mentioned signs and bracelets everywhere, efforts like the elementary students decorating the fence outside their school, or neighbors mowing his parents’ yard—a yard Duane took great pride in. They had people in different churches dedicating services to Duane. “We just leaned on these communities,” Brad said. 

The people who supported them during it all reminded Brad of the support his dad would give the teachers and students he came in touch with during his career. “This guy would go into the lunch room and serve his teachers and students cheeseburgers. He would go into the classrooms and read to the kids. My dad would be there working all the time.”

One person who witnessed that calm and composed effort is UW-Platteville Head Football Coach Mike Emendorfer, who both Duane and his father, Doug, worked for as part-time coaches. Emendorfer also coached Duane’s two sons.

“He was just a remarkable man, great educator, coach, and person,” Emendorfer stated.

Emendorfer shared a memory about him and Bark during his three years as a part-time coach. It was earlier in Emendorfer’s tenure, as he was building the program and had a lot of younger assistant coaches around him. At the start of halftime of a tense game, Duane pulled him off to the side briefly. “He told me, ‘Take a deep breath; everything is going to be OK.’ I never told him, but it meant a lot to me,” Emendorfer said.

Brad said his dad learned about the importance of sports from his father and longtime coach. “He said there is a strong chance none of us will ever go pro, but the whole idea behind high school and college sports is to make professionals out of us to succeed.”

The younger Bark also noted that his dad, being his principal and coach in high school, set him up for that success. “When we are young men, we think we know everything. There were times I needed help, and just having my dad, my best friend, my mentor, in school there every day helped.”

Even though he was put in a coma in early August, Duane just wouldn’t stay down, fighting by coming in and out of consciousness and moving around. 

Every time there seemed to be a sign he was going to make it, it was followed by a sign that he was far from being out of the woods. There was an infection that brought Duane to a place where they predicted he only had a 5 percent chance of recovering.

They asked his “support team” to specifically pray for that infection to go away. Suddenly, the infection went away, and he was doing better.

Then, another infection hit him, this time causing his kidneys to shut down.

When Duane passed, the Bark family saw a large amount of support shift to honoring the late role model. People he worked with, taught and coached provided accolades. Different stories showed up in the local papers of those communities, and even CNN gave coverage  earlier this week.

Looking back, Brad said there was a lot taken away with his dad’s passing. 

“You know, there were times when I couldn’t wait to get a call with dad on the phone, and just wanted to talk with him, and now that is never going to happen again ... If you had told me this was the last time I would have seen him, I would have never let him go. 

“You have to love every single day, make every day worth living, and live every day like its your last.”

David Timmerman is the editor of the Grant County Herald Independent, in Lancaster.

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