Mar 14, 2019
Noted southwest Michigan fruit grower Karl Barden dies

Karl F. Barden, a well-known South Haven, Michigan, fruit grower,  died March 10.

Karl F. Barden

According to his obituary, Mr. Barden followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Michigan State Horticulture Society when he was just 14. Both were proud lifetime members. Karl also attended local schools including Tuscan High School in Arizona where he played trombone in the marching band. After graduating from high school in 1955, Karl began farming with his dad and uncle, Ben Barden, on the farm, Barden Brothers Incorporated. It was very important to Karl that he continue his family’s legacy on the farm despite being offered jobs elsewhere. During winter months he took horticulture short courses at Michigan State University (MSU). From them on he was a proud Spartan fan and supporter. Karl later joined the Army National Guard, completing basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

A farmer through and through, Karl was passionate about his work. As he expanded operations, he built a revolutionary packing plant on the farm which didn’t go unnoticed as MSU even came to look at the technology so they could learn and teach others. Being cutting edge allowed the family to continually add more orchards and improve the agricultural industry. At one time, the Barden’s had the largest family owned peach orchard in the area. Wise and proactive, Karl grew several crops to be diversified in case one crop froze or underperformed, and over the years they grew peaches, pears, cherries, apples, plums, and apricots. He was mechanically inclined and could fix anything on the farm, which helped save money. Karl even kept his pliers and a screwdriver in his pocket, but he never remembered where he put them. He enjoyed lending a helping hand to neighboring farmers to fix their tractors and equipment as well. In fact, Karl built his own fire truck for the farm before fire trucks had fancy pumpers. His truck had a huge spray tank that he would fill and use to fight fires on the farm and within the community.

With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around him, Karl Barden was an extraordinary man to know and love. He worked hard in everything he did, and his passion for his work was easy to see. A loving husband and father, Karl was blessed to witness his family tree blossom to include the grandchildren who made him so very proud. A true gentleman who took everything in stride, he was a calm and steady presence in the lives of those around him. Deeply loved, Karl will be forever missed.

Life was anything but easy during the 1930s as the entire decade was plagued with a soaring unemployment rate due to the Great Depression. Things only became more dire when a drought covered our nation’s heartland during this time, adding strain to an already struggling agricultural industry. Despite the trials around them, Donald and Katherine (Fletcher) Barden where able to focus their attention on a time of great joy as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named Karl Floyd on December 14, 1936, in South Haven, Michigan. The oldest of three, Karl was joined in his family by his sister, Kathleen, and his baby brother who sadly lived only one day. Karl’s mother was a homemaker while his father was a fruit farmer in South Haven. Karl started helping his parents on the farm when he was just a young boy.

Karl’s family includes his wife, Novella; son: Brian (Claudia) Barden; daughter-in-law: Becky Barden; grandchildren: Adam, Jacob, Alex, Ben, Luke, Megan; sister: Kathleen Merchant; and several nieces and cousins. Karl was preceded in death by his parents; son, Charlie; brother-in-law: Michael Merchant. Visit with family and friends from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday (MAR 16) at First Congregational Church, 651 Phoenix St, South Haven, where a service will be held at 1 p.m.

A luncheon will follow in the church hall. Burial will take place at McDowell Cemetery. Please visit Karl’s personal web page at, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to First Congregational Church Bell Fund or Caring Circle Hospice at Home. Special thanks to the Bodfish family, Theresa Conklin, Pam and Mike Bailey, Grace of Douglas, and Caring Circle Hospice at Home. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr Kalamazoo, MI 49009, (269) 375-2900.

To view Mr. Barden’s complete obituary, visit here.

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P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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