Pax Christi Award finalist for the Southwest Deanery of the Diocese of Superior’s Council of Catholic Women Barbara Lynch is pictured at the June convention with Bishop James P. Powers and Fr. Jim Brinkman. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Barbara Lynch’s hometown ties to Cumberland are strong. A descendant of one of the founding Italian families near St. Anthony the Abbot Church, most of her siblings are still in the area as well as her children.

Lynch was the oldest girl among six siblings of the Bill and Joanne Ranallo family. Her mother was an Anderson – a Swedish Lutheran, although she began the RCIA process at 18 when she and her future husband were engaged. The Ranallos were also related to Thomas St. Angelo, for whom the public library is named – St. Angelo was Bill’s uncle – and they are related as well to Fr. Andy Ricci, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior.

Bill Ranallo has one sister still living who recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of her religious life.

“We have a lot of history in the Catholic Church,” Lynch said, adding, “We’ve been very, very fortunate” to stay close to their faith, family and homegrown community.

Her family has always been closeknit. She recalls during childhood how “the farm,” her father’s parents’ home – walking distance from St. Anthony’s Church – was a frequent place for the family to visit. Neither of her grandparents drove, and it was often her father who would pick them up if needed. She remembers loading up into the station wagon with her siblings to drive over for a mid-week visit.

Although she was a bit older when she developed a closer relationship with her Anderson grandmother, Lynch said she would drive up to her home in Stanberry, near Hayward, as a young mother. She was a longtime widow, and Lynch’s parents eventually built her a home in Lynch’s neighborhood. The home is still in the family.

“I was blessed with grandparents on both sides that were just incredible people,” she asserted, giving the example of their religiosity and her grandmother’s strength of character in chopping wood well into her 70s.

A lifelong educator, Lynch has always put family first.

She and her husband met on the set of a play at the Barron County college campus. Although Broadway had been the goal for the 18-year-old who loved acting, she married Dave Lynch after they both finished their associate’s degrees. Having spent four years in the Navy, he was five years older, and the couple moved to River Falls to continue their studies. Lynch gave birth to their first son just before graduating but still finished her teaching degree.

The couple moved back to Cumberland with a newborn; Dave took a job at a nearby factory and would later work at Ardisam, Inc. as a chief engineer. Barbara was pregnant during her student teaching, and the couple had a third child while she was tutoring high school-aged moms to help them finish high school.

The program “was ahead of its time,” Lynch acknowledged. “The girl who ran it was amazing, and the girls thought it was funny that I was tutoring them while I was pregnant, too.”

She was able to help five young women through that program and was then offered a full-time first grade position at the Cumberland Public School in 1983. Over her 30-year teaching career, she educated numerous students whose children she later taught.

Lynch’s sense of family and community came together in her involvement with the local Education Foundation, started in part by her mother. Intended to be a one-year fundraiser to raise money for a need not covered in the school budget, its success turned into an ongoing effort. She even replaced her mother on the foundation’s board and is proud of the many important projects they have funded.

She was also very engaged with their teacher’s union, working specifically with the negotiations team. Lynch said it was very important to all involved to work together without battles or strikes.

Another program Lynch has been heavily invested in was something that she says fell into her lap through a miscommunication. Not sure whether to call it providence or a happy accident, she is very pleased to have been part of the Kinship program mentoring young people in the community.

After working for six years with a young man, he unfortunately ended up in a juvenile center. Desiring to mentor someone else, Lynch met a 7-year-old “adorable little Native American girl” from the nearby Maple Plains reservation at a Kinship party. In December she will be 18. The pair have enjoyed going to the movies together and making homemade pasta. The young woman even shared her pasta-making skills at a fundraiser from which she donated $2,000 back to the Kinship program out of gratitude.

Lynch’s commitment to her lifelong loves continues. Having been caregiver with her siblings for their mother who passed away in January 2022, their father is “still alive and ticking,” but needed help learning to do the many things their mother always took care of, like bills and laundry. The “amazing” man has 19 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

As for her involvement in the parish Council of Catholic Women, Lynch said with a laugh, “the biggest thing that helps is to retire.” During her younger years as a working mother, she couldn’t attend meetings because they were usually at 3 p.m. Although the early meetings accommodated older women who weren’t comfortable driving at dusk, to this day the younger women give when and where they are able.

Once she got more active with the group, the CCW parish president asked her to be her vice-president. She agreed and was then informed that the commitment included automatically moving into the president role.

Lynch says she was teased about her “calling” to the roles. “Was it a calling? Yes,” she answered her own question, “Darlene called me.”

“The women in the CCW here are incredible,” she added emphasizing each syllable. “This whole nomination stunned me because this group of women – you cannot equal them.”

The Cumberland parish CCW is comprised of eight circles like small groups. Each circle is named after a female saint and when it comes time to divide up responsibilities or tasks for any needs and events, the organized circle leaders take action with their circle contacts. There’s never a shortage of help, Lynch recognized because of everyone’s willingness to help, including women who volunteer to fill in as needed.

Even though the younger women aren’t able to attend many meetings, it was noted how ready and willing they are to jump in for a weekend funeral, the cluster Christmas program or baking something.

“You see them there,” Lynch said affirming how the relationships are being established throughout years. “They’re doing their part and we hope that they will carry this through” when it’s their turn to take the torch.