They returned to Shelbyville to visit relatives and also to relay a special message to the community.

“I want to let them know that my daughter’s four years of college education is paid in full,” said Rhonda Barker, widow of Lt. j.g. John Barker.

Lt. Barker, a Navy pilot, was killed in an A-6 jet crash in southwestern Washington state April 14, 1988. His body was found April 15 -- the same day his only child, Johnna Belle, was born.

Johnna, now 18 years old, graduated from Bay High School in Panama City, FL. She plans to attend Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City and transfer to the University of West Floriday in Pensacola.

According to Rhonda Barker, she received $4000 from the community. The money had been initially invested in a money market fund, allowing it to grow to that amount before she received it.

“We want to let the people (of Shelbyville) know that the money is being put to good use for Johnna,” Barker said.

“Everybody giving a little bit grows into a lot,” Nancy Barker, John’s mother and Johnna’s grandmother, said of the donations.

Johnna and her mother have visited her father’s grave a few times when she was very young. But it has been 10 years since she last visited it.

Even though she didn’t know him, Johnna has gotten to know him through the stories told by family about her father.

“I’ve always heard a lot of stories from my mom and family,” Johnna said. “We’ve kept good contact.”

Lt. Barker graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1977. He met and married Rhonda when he was stationed in Florida.

Lt. Barker was test flying the A-6 jet when it went missing on April 14, 1988. Rhonda went into labor after hearing the news, giving birth on April 15.

Just after delivery, she received word that the wreckage had been found in Mt. St. Helen’s State Park. Two days later, the cross necklace she had given him as a wedding gift was returned to her.

Rhonda never remarried, devoting her time to raising Johnna and working.

Rhonda said she invested the money in Florida’s prepaid tuition program, which allowed it to grow to pay for four years of college and her dorm room.

“We just want to let the people of Shelbyville know what happened to the money,” Rhonda said. “It wasn’t blown on tattoos or anything.”

“We just want to say thank you,” Johnna said.

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