Living in Florida was always something I wanted. After visiting Disney World with my family in 1973, I was sold. This place is beautiful: the palm trees, the clear blue skies and yearlong great weather. I mean, who would not want to live in this paradise? So how did this dream come to be a reality?

After graduating from LHS, I took the four-hour drive to the University of Maryland, where I started as an accounting major, doing what I thought I was supposed to do — learn accounting, get a job and launch my career. Turns out that I found accounting extremely boring, so that didn’t last long.

I decided I would try to get into broadcasting and changed my major to public relations, specializing in communications. As a senior, I got an internship at NBC in Washington, D.C., working in the promotion department at affiliate, KISS FM. I loved the environment and thought this was where I wanted to be.

When I graduated from Maryland in 1981, I started my first job as an NBC Page, which means I worked in the mail room. The money was nothing to speak of, so I supplemented my income as a DJ in some local bars, a role I enjoyed because music was a passion of mine.

Back at the office, I would see and meet some big celebrities. I got to deliver mail to Roger Mudd, who at the time was doing the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. I thought, “Man, this place is cool.” The Charlie Rose show was broadcast from this location, and he had some very interesting guests, including Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. One time, I was on the elevator with Rich Little and Susan Sullivan; I passed Jesse Jackson in the hallway. Another guest was Howard Stern with Fred Norris who at the time were working the morning drivetime on DC 101. I had a nice conversation with Howard and Fred. In fact, I provided Howard with a little inside information about Charlie Rose, and he used it on the next show.

After a couple of years, I decided I needed to do something to make a little more money. So, I heard about a sales job in Randolph, New Jersey at WRAN 1510 AM, which was partially owned by Cousin Brucie. I worked there for a short time and then made the switch to WDHA, 105.5 FM for a couple of years.

I guess I’m a Car Guy now. In 1985 I started selling cars at Jim Salerno Pontiac, Buick, GMC in Randolph. I worked there for about eight years and became General Manager of the auto leasing facility in Dover, N.J.

My soul mate: In July of 1986, I met my future wife, Beverly. Within two months of our first date, I asked her to marry me. We were married the following August and will be celebrating our 37th anniversary this August. We were both doing okay in our jobs and bought our first home in Allamuchy in Warren County. I commuted to Dover and my poor wife had to make the long drive to Newark every day to get to Prudential Financial. In 1990, we moved to Randolph and lived there for a couple of years – ultimately deciding to move to Florida. It was a very difficult decision, as I had to leave my family and job to see if we could make it work. Both of us wanted to live in Florida and said to each other, “Why do we need to wait until we retire? Let’s do it now and see if we can pull it off”. Bev’s parents were in Florida, and I had a couple of friends that lived there, so we gave it a shot.

Our timing couldn’t have been worse. I had a job interview in Kendall two weeks after Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. I had to drive through what looked like a war zone with debris everywhere to get to the interview. Then, we had to find a place to live, not easy to do among all the people who had been displaced by the hurricane. We rented a condo in Miami Gardens and lived there for all of 10 months but decided neither the job (my boss was a lunatic) or living in Dade County were for us. Still, we weren’t ready to throw in the towel. We moved to Boca and lived there for a couple of years… Yeah, this was much better.

Back in the car business: In 1995, I got a job as a credit analyst at Ford Motor Credit, where I ended up working various jobs and locations for almost 17 years. In 2004, I was promoted to regional operations manager at the Orlando Ford Credit office.

Best decision we ever made: After enduring three miscarriages, Beverly and I decided to adopt our daughter from China. We completed our dossier in May of 2000 and sent it off to China via our adoption agency. In June, we were matched with our daughter and received our first pictures of her, along with more than 10 pages of background information.

We traveled to China on August 11, 2001, and within 24 hours, we were in Wuhan and our precious little girl, Suzanna Raye Li, was handed to us. We celebrated her first birthday in China and after two weeks, were back in Florida as a family.

In 2004, we had to relocate to Orlando as mentioned earlier. We lived there for three years, because Ford Credit was consolidating branch offices; all business was to be conducted from service centers throughout the country. We wanted to stay in Florida, so we made the move to Tampa, which was the only such service center in Florida. We lived in Tampa for the next five years.

In 2012, I made a bold move, leaving Ford Credit to move back to the east coast of Florida to be closer to Bev’s mom. We also wanted good schools for Suzanna. Parkland seemed to fit the bill.

The job I took to make the move was as director of credit operations at a subprime auto finance company. That lasted all of two years. We didn’t want to move anymore, so I focused on getting a job at the only captive auto finance company in the area, Southeast Toyota Finance, in 2014.

Everything seemed to be going well until one day in 2018 that changed our world forever. It was February 14, 2018, Valentines Day, at 2:21 p.m. I received a group text message from Suzanna’s boyfriend, along with Suzanna and Bev. The first text was Suzanna and he were safe, RED ALERT. I texted back what is Red Alert? The next text was “Active Shooter!”

I leaped out of my seat in the conference room, where I had been in a meeting. I went to an office that had a TV on and it was already tuned into the local Miami ABC station covering the shooting.

The phone calls came in from everyone I knew; it was just shocking that this could happen in Parkland, Florida. You know the rest of the story, where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman, who had very easy access to the school.

My daughter went to two funerals; it was hard to fathom. Our neighbors across the street lost their 14-year-old daughter. That day forever changed the meaning of Valentines Day for us and many of our neighbors and friends. Suzanna was incredibly resilient. She traveled to D.C. with her classmates and was interviewed by Ali Veshi on MSNBC to tell her story. Suzanna was also chosen to represent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the Global Education Forum in Dubai and here is a link to the presentation: Global Education Forum

Suzanna attended the University of Florida and graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 2022 and is now a structural engineer in Ft. Lauderdale.

Bev and I wanted out of Parkland, due to the constant reminders of “that day” and in September of 2020, made the move to Jupiter, where we currently reside. It’s a nice condo community with a marina on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other. Nothing like taking a walk to the beach, since we are just a mile inland. We are enjoying this new life as both of us are now retirees.

Music is still a big part of my life. After a chance meeting with some guys, in July of 2019. I joined a band, which I still enjoy to this day. I play percussion, harmonica and vocals in a band called “AlgoRhythm.” We have a gig about once a month and have played some nice venues in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

I keep in touch with some Livingston classmates in person and on Facebook. I also travel back to Livingston every so often, as my mom moved back there in 2022 after my dad passed away in 2021. My sister, Lauren, LHS 1980 is in Hampton, New Jersey. I can be easily reached at mike.barna59@gmail.com.

Epilogue: When Michael Hauser contacted me about contributing a Classmate Spotlight, the first words out of my mouth were “Ohhh, I don’t have a story”. He told me that everybody says that and tells me that everybody has a story and then after a few minutes, he gets the wheels in your head turning, It didn’t take me long to realize that I did, in fact, have a story that I was glad to share and appreciate you reading it.