October 28, 2017 12:30PM
And his world had just been turned upside down: He and his wife, Jennifer, were grappling with the birth of their daughter, Katherine, being born 16 weeks premature at Freeman Health System in Joplin.
The couple's home away from home became nearby Ronald McDonald House of the Four States, and the experience they had there was life changing. They were cared for and comfortable as they helped their daughter, Katherine, with a fight for her life.
"You realize when you go there and see the house for the first time, and you are emotional, that a lot of very kind people worked so hard to create something to save you. To literally save you. They didn't even know you. And they did it years before you needed it," Dean. "They knew there would come a day when you needed a home, and they created it."
On Nov. 11, Barry will give back by performing a benefit concert in Pittsburg — which has the highest use of the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States — and he's bringing with him some big names:
Lori McKenna, a back-to-back Grammy and CMA winner, with a recent album nominated for three Grammys.
Luke Laird, who has written 23 No. 1 hits, produced a Grammy-winning album, and has been an ACM and BMI Songwriter of the Year.
And Jennifer Schott — also a Pittsburg native, whose dad, Robert Schott, a legendary professor in the PSU Department of Music. Jennifer penned the title track of a Grammy-nominated album.
All proceeds from their benefit show, "Nashville Songwriters Night at PSU" in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, will go toward Ronald McDonald House of the Four States. And the kindness, Dean said, can continue.
"There is so much kindness at Ronald McDonald House — so much humanity," Dean said. "All those years throwing change at the buckets, and I never thought about what it really did."
Dean grew up in Pittsburg, where he attended Pittsburg High School and St. Mary's Colgan. He attended classes at PSU, putting in hours on the microphone at KRPS Radio Station and exploring music and amateur songwriting. He also worked on the creative side of the marketing team at Pitsco Education Company, founded by his dad, Harvey Dean.
He began traveling back and forth to Nashville on his journey to becoming a professional songwriter, and he and Jennifer looked forward to the birth of their first child.
She arrived too early, on Oct. 13, 2000 — a full 16 weeks before her due date.
"Jenn had only been in maternity clothes a week or two at most," Dean recalled. "We hadn't even had baby classes yet."
Born at 1 pound, 10 ounces, doctors immediately took the baby away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She was so tiny, her lungs didn't show up on x-rays.
"It was a crushing thing — we were told she probably won't live. They gave her 72 hours," Dean said. "But Jenn whispered to her — and I didn't know this until later — she said 'fight'."
Parts of the experience are a blur, while other parts still are vivid.
"My co-workers showed up the next day with a cupcake with one candle. And the next day, one with two candles. And the next day, one with three. We were celebrating day by day, because that's all we had," Dean said.
While Jennifer was recovering from delivery, Barry was taxed with decision making.
"We hadn't even been able to hold her yet, and we were advised to visit with a funeral home," Dean said.
But Katherine fought.
And it became clear that she'd be in the NICU for months — until her due date.
"But at the same time, they're telling me they'll be dismissing Jennifer the next day," Dean said. "And Jennifer said 'I'm not leaving my child'."
"We were trying to figure out whether we would sell our house and move to Joplin, or what? We had already made so many decisions that were monumental. And a social worker came in and told us about Ronald McDonald House. It was across the parking lot. Literally within sight of the hospital."
"I went to check it out. It was beautiful and smelled like cookies. It was super emotional. This was before we all had cell phones, and they gave us a pager so the hospital could always reach us," Dean said.
The couple settled in and it became home until the day before Christmas, when they would take Katherine to Springfield, Missouri, for eye surgery and on to St. Louis for additional care for several weeks before returning to Joplin.
"I didn't really think about them until I needed them," Dean said. "And that's probably how it is with each of us."
His mom, Sharon Dean, is now a member of the Board of Directors for Ronald McDonald House of the Four States. Barry and Jennifer, after living in Pittsburg with Katherine until she was three or four years old, now call Nashville home. Katherine just turned 17 and is enjoying life; a playground accessible to wheelchairs was built in Pittsburg and named in her honor recently. And Dean has done well: He's a Grammy nominated and CMA songwriter.
His songs include No. 1 hits of "Pontoon," "Day Drinking," and "Think a Little Less." He was awarded the NASI "Song I Wish I had Written" for writing Tim McGraw's "Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools."
Up next: traveling to the award shows. And then there's the Bluebird Café, a legendary performance space for songwriters in Nashville that Dean frequents.
He said the Nov. 11 show in Pittsburg will provide local listeners a taste of that without having to travel. There's never been anything like it in this area, to this level. And even non-country music fans will enjoy it, he promised.
"People who don't even like country music tend to fall in love with the Bluebird and songwriter shows," Dean said. "It's more stories of how the songs were written, and they're sung by the people who wrote them."
Tickets are $20 in advance, or $25 at the door. Tickets are available online at www.bicknellcenter.com or by calling the PSU Ticket Office at 620-235-4796.