May 26, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Leonard R. Barnes, Traverse City

Travel writer had world's worth of knowledge

Mr. Barnes )

As a travel writer, Len Barnes crossed the globe to expand others’ horizons and knowledge.

“He always liked to open the eyes of the reader to new adventures,” said Bill Semion, a former colleague at Michigan Living, AAA’s monthly travel magazine. “He loved to show people the world.”

Mr. Barnes — whom The Detroit News once called “the dean of Michigan’s travel writers” — died Monday, May 12, 2014. He was 94.

Born Dec. 28, 1919, in Boyne City, he was inspired by a classmate’s father, outdoor writer Ben East; his family’s European roots; and years of hunting and fishing, said his wife, Ellen Barnes.

Mr. Barnes studied journalism at Michigan State University, where he was managing editor of the student newspaper.

Graduating in 1943, he spent two years with the Army on the Aleutian Island of Shemya, where he edited a newspaper, managed a radio station and oversaw an education center, relatives said.

Honorably discharged as a captain, Mr. Barnes returned to the United States and in 1946 joined a magazine that became Michigan Living.

Mr. Barnes started as an associate editor and eventually became editor-in-chief. He also authored a feature column, “Dining Out in Michigan.”

His duties led him to all 50 U.S. states and more than 130 countries, relatives said.

Mr. Barnes strived to document sites as comprehensively as possible — including photographing locals.

“He went across the barriers,” his wife said. “If he didn’t speak the language, a smile would do it.”

His work, which appeared in publications such as Reader’s Digest and the Chicago Tribune, earned numerous honors. “He set the gold standard for travel writing,” said Nancy Cain, a longtime colleague at AAA Michigan.

Mr. Barnes also was a “Michigan booster,” she said. In 1978, the state Legislature adopted a resolution recognizing him as “the voice of travel and tourism across Michigan and the Midwest,” relatives said.

His writing was distinguished not only for its subjects but a unique style: often featuring short sentences structured to avoid using commas or the word “and.”

“He didn’t waste time on a lot of verbosity,” said Stan Meretsky, a former advertising manager. “He was right to the point.”

During his tenure, Mr. Barnes is credited with creating the-then Automobile Club of Michigan’s “Bring ’Em Back Alive!” traffic campaign in the 1960s as well as holiday travel reports, relatives and colleagues said.

He also oversaw his company’s communications department, was involved in promotional films, spent 13 years on the Michigan Travel Commission and was among the Society of American Travel Writers members selected to promote the 1976 U.S bicentennial celebrations abroad, relatives said.

Retiring in the 1990s, Mr. Barnes and his wife relocated to Traverse City, where he was active in an Elks lodge and continued writing.

Mr. Barnes maintained his love for traveling and dining out. “He was constantly seeking out the greatest, newest place to go — then he wanted to share that with people any way he could,” said his son, Stephen Barnes.

Besides his wife and son, other survivors include two children, Hilary Barnes and Julia Barnes; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial is planned for this summer.

Memorial contributions may be made to the SATW Foundation at or to the AAA Len Barnes Michigan Fund Award, a journalism scholarship at MSU:
(313) 222-2117