In Honor of Founding Director Len Barnes
The SATW Foundation has lost a dear friend and supporter, Len Barnes. He died at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, MI, on May 12 at the age of 94. A longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, he was the driving force in starting the Foundation and its mission to recognize outstanding travel journalism. Click here to read more about him and tributes from friends and colleagues.

A Tribute of Remembrances for Len Barnes 1919-2014

A ‘lively character and raconteur’
Len Barnes was a man of many accomplishments. Perhaps most notable, he was a founder of the SATW Foundation in the early 1980s and was instrumental in getting funding to start the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition honoring excellence in the field.

He was a 1943 graduate of Michigan State University’s J-school, was the editor-in-chief of AAA Michigan Living magazine for countless years and an indefatigable supporter of Michigan tourism.

A lively character and raconteur, he was fond of Beefeater martinis and always mentioned the price of them in any restaurant articles that he wrote.

A supporter of the Foundation to the end, Len was a contributing partner in this year’s “30 Partners for 30 Years” Foundation fundraising campaign. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ellen Barnes.

Cynthia Boal Janssens, SATW Foundation trustee, Michigan resident and editor/chief blogger at

‘Dedication and resilience’
I had the privilege of working with Len over many years not only on both SATW and Foundation issues but also as a writer for his magazine, and I admired his dedication, his standards and his resilience.

Jay Clarke, SATW Foundation trustee, travel writer/columnist, Coral Gables, FL

‘We all owe him a lot’
Len was responsible for my joining SATW principally to be involved with the Foundation. Without his leadership, the Foundation would not be what it is today. On the personal front, his warmth and caring nature brought lots of life and recognition to aspiring travel writers and editors. We all owe him a lot. He set a wonderful example.

John Macdonald, SATW Foundation trustee and travel editor emeritus, The Seattle Times

‘Devoted’ to the Society and Foundation
My first encounter with Len was in Haiti in 1965 when he headed a group of AAA magazine editors on a pioneering press trip (co-sponsored by the late SATW founding member Roger Wolin of Pan Am) to that very unpopular destination. Len, and his fellow writers, discovered that more than a few conceptions of Haiti were mythical and wrote mostly positive stories. Equally important to the island’s tourism, Len and several others encouraged their respective travel departments to offer the first Duvalier-era member tours.

Through the years, we had more adventures together and always enjoyed sharing our respective WWII Air Force stories.

Len was a class act professionally and personally and was totally devoted to the Society. As we all know well, without Len the SATW Foundation would not exist.

He will be missed.

Stuart G. Newman, SATW Foundation director and president, Stuart Newman Associates, Miami, FL

He sought ‘experiences and friendships’
I met Len only a few times but he thought we had a kinship because of his decades in Michigan and my having graduated from Michigan State. He clearly enjoyed life and did not wait for it to come to him but sought out experiences — and friendships.

Bob Jenkins, SATW Foundation director and freelance travel writer, St. Petersburg, FL

A ‘love of travel’
I had the pleasure of hosting Len and his son in Alaska on a small-ship cruise and was enthralled with his stories and love of travel. And I am not sure who had more fun, Len or his son as they both seem tickled by the intimacy of the place. Every once in a while you run across the Len’s of the world and of the more than 150 journalists we hosted in the three years with the account, Len’s visit stands out as one of the most memorable. Great family.

Elliot Gillies, SATW Foundation trustee/treasurer and president, Gillies & Zaiser Inc., Pomona, NY  

‘The Foundation was a passion for Len’
Len Barnes was a special individual and most respected. He selected Mary Lu Abbott and me to work with him for the SATW convention in Kansas City in 1988 when he was the SATW president. Not only were we his convention co-chairs, we were his confidants and best friends.  He trusted us and we loved and trusted him.

There was always the highest degree of respect between the two of us. That was special and something you have to earn...he taught me a lot.

Len and I were roommates when the Central States SATW Chapter held its meeting in New Orleans sometime in the mid-‘80s.  After then, he would frequently call me “roommate” or “roomy.”

Soon after the SATW Foundation was organized and the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition began, I was honored to be asked to serve on the board of directors. The Foundation was a passion for Len and will certainly be a part of his legacy. I continue to feel honored to serve the Foundation and even more so in his memory.

Len Barnes was an extra special friend.

Ed Stone, Foundation trustee and president, Stone Communications, Fairfield Glade, TN

‘Our major fundraiser and tireless cheerleader’
As travel editor of the Houston Chronicle, in the mid-1980s, I worked with Len in the startup of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, coming onto the SATW Foundation board as a director in 1986. From the time I first met him, he was dedicated to the Foundation and the Lowell Thomas awards.

Anytime you crossed paths with Len, you could count on him talking up the Foundation. If it had not been for his hard work and connections, we would never have gotten the funding to start the competition. For years, he was our major fundraiser and tireless cheerleader, endlessly seeking donors for the cause.

He was fun-loving, full of stories, exuberant and eager for any new adventure. When on trips, he incessantly scribbled notes in a pad, on little pieces of paper or even cocktail napkins. He always wanted to taste the local cuisine — and also might ask for the recipe of a dish or drink he liked. 

He served as secretary of the Foundation board at first and later was president. At his request, I agreed to serve as president in the mid-1990s. The Foundation owes a great deal not only to Len personally but also to AAA Michigan Living, which was a donor and for years handled all the Foundation secretarial services and printing costs.

Len was most proud that he won several Lowell Thomas awards, for his writing and for his magazine, AAA Michigan Living.
Like Ed Stone also noted, I’m honored to serve the Foundation and help see that we continue the mission that meant so much to Len.

Mary Lu Abbott, former Foundation president and now serving as administrator overseeing day-to-day operations.

Looking Back on Long Career 

Here is some background on his long career and contributions to journalism, excerpted from the obituary prepared by his family.

Len was born in Boyne City, MI. During grade school in Grand Rapids, MI, he observed a classmate’s father, outdoor writer Ben East, leave for work with a fly rod or hunting rifle in hand and realized that the writing life would be for him. He attended high school in Cadillac, MI, where he spent his teen years hunting and fishing with his father and friends.

He entered the ROTC in 1941 and during WWII served two years as a member of the U.S. Army on the Aleutian Island of Shemya as editor of the Post newspaper, radio station manager and president of Williwaw Tech, an on-duty education school for 3,500 students. He was honorably discharged at the rank of captain.

On October 17, 1953, he married the former Ellen Cutright in Detroit, who was his lifelong travel companion, interpreter and photographer at times. Under his tutelage Ellen learned to operate a double reflex camera and the old Bell and Howell movie camera.

For 26 years, Len was editor of AAA’s monthly travel magazine, Michigan Living, and the author of its feature column ‘Dining Out in Michigan’ for 35 years. He was the creator in 1961 of the Auto Club’s “Bring ‘Em Back Alive!” traffic campaign and the Holiday News Service, which offered live road condition information to drivers over 167 radio stations.

His alma mater, Michigan State University and the University College of Communication Arts, named him a Distinguished Alumnus for his award-winning travel articles.

He was a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers (joining the Society in 1960, soon after it was organized) and the Council of Writers Organizations. Len served on the Michigan Travel Commission and traveled as a member of Governor Blanchard’s commission on China. He was president of the Detroit Press Club, founded the Midwest Travel Writers Association and was president of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.

In 1974, Len was named a Michigan Ambassador of Tourism and served on the Detroit Bicentennial Commission 1975-76. In 1975 he was one of 38 members of SATW selected to circle the globe to invite foreign visitors to attend U.S Bicentennial celebrations. He later co-chaired the SATW’s annual meeting that drew 250 members to Michigan in the fall of 1985.

In1978, the Michigan Legislature adopted a resolution recognizing Len as “the voice of travel and tourism across Michigan and the Midwest” and as a pioneer in the promotion of Michigan’s tourist industry.

In-Memory Contributions
Contributions honoring him may be made online through our website (
CLICK HEREto Donate to the SATW Foundation) or mailed to the SATW Foundation, 6317 Crab Orchard Road, Houston, TX 77057.