CHETOPA — It is music that has bound the Barnes family tightly together through life’s high notes and low notes, with God serving as their conductor.
The family had just returned to the Hornet’s Nest in Chetopa from Joplin, where Cheryl Barnes and her two daughters, Jessica Barnes and Kayla Rogers, volunteered to sing their own rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at a special breakfast honoring firefighters and emergency medical services.
As they have for years, each member of the family moved about the restaurant’s small kitchen, performing their familiar routines, preparing for the onslaught of Tuesday lunch customers that would soon be arriving.
The ladies of the family then took a seat for a moment to share a piece of their story, their song, with lyrics telling of challenges and obstacles, blessings and bonds, love and laughter.
Always musically talented, Cheryl Barnes began performing in church when she was 8. She began working at the Hornet’s Nest in Chetopa when she was about 12, and then just a few short years later, in 1981, her mother Esther and her father bought the business. Barnes spent her teen years helping out her mother at the restaurant, as her father departed in 1983. When she wasn’t working or in school, she was involved in her church and spent time developing her musical talents, singing and playing the piano.
It is music that eventually brought Cheryl and David Barnes together. She found a church to attend while going to college, and it was there she met her future husband, a vocalist performing on stage. The match was made when he asked her to play for him.
“She can play incredible keys,” Rogers said of her mother. “She can play the piano like an angel.”
The two started dating and got married, and their children grew up around the restaurant, church and music.
“Kayla came out of the womb singing harmony and Jess was always the big voice,” Cheryl Barnes said.
“I wanted the microphone in my hand from the time I could walk,” Jessica Barnes added.
Cheryl and David Barnes had a little southern gospel group with Ted Daniels and decided to start traveling on the weekends singing.
“Ted wrote songs and we had songs on the radio. We were pretty good,” Mrs. Barnes said.
David Barnes had sung for some country music shows and had performed in Branson, Missouri. And there were plans to begin recording music.
“That was right before Kayla was diagnosed,” Cheryl Barnes said. “Here we are traveling every weekend, doing three services a day. We did it for several years and then we had to stop.”
Rogers, the youngest of the two girls and born in 1993, was diagnosed three months after her birth with a rare form of cancer. That was the beginning.
As fate would have it, for a good portion of the Barnes’ marriage someone in the family has been battling cancer. Kayla, who was given a 15% chance of living until her first birthday, underwent radiation, steroid and chemotherapy treatments. The couple believed God had other plans for her. They traveled to Tulsa every week for the first five years of Kayla’s life, then kept going back less frequently each year till she was 13 and deemed cancer free.
Cheryl Barnes was then diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and had a recurrence in 2005. In 2007 her mother was stricken with several heart attacks and could no longer operate the restaurant, so Barnes took it over while serving as a caregiver for her mother, helping her to dialysis three days a week and staying with her while she was in and out of the hospital, until her passing in 2012. As teens, both Jessica and Kayla began working in the restaurant, helping their mother and grandmother, so both were able to lend a helping hand. Even some of the former waitresses who used to work at the restaurant came back to help the family through the difficult time, filling in when they needed help.
“They just showed up and didn’t expect anything in return,” Cheryl Barnes said.
Things seemed to normalize for a short period of time after her mother’s passing. The family worked the restaurant during the week, and on the weekends the girls and their mom would help David Barnes, who pastored the North Miami Assembly of God in Miami, Oklahoma. The family served the church in a variety of capacities, including leading the worship team. That ended when David Barnes was hit with a rare form of cancer in 2015. Jessica Barnes then followed, being diagnosed with the same rare cancer in 2018. Both are still participating in a familial blood line cancer study through the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
There was never a time, through it all, that the family can recall not having faith and not having hope, despite the trials and difficulties.
“It’s complicated,” Cheryl Barnes said of juggling cancer treatments, family and the restaurant, “but we have lots of help, lots of good friends, lots of good family and everybody pitches in.”
“Fortunately we only get sick one at a time,” Jessica Barnes said.
Customers entered the restaurant Tuesday, placed their order and took a seat in a booth. Then in popped another one. It was only 10:45 a.m.
“It’s a pretty hopping place,” Cheryl Barnes said. “We kind of try to keep the traditions that mom started. If you’ve heard anything about mom, she was amazing. She always did everything for the kids and the community. She left some big shoes to fill.”
There is the making of colored ice cream for the children, school supply drives and much more.
“We kind of do the same thing. It’s more about the community than making money. It’s more about being here with family. I still have truckers come in from across the street that have little fire bibles she gave them years ago,” Kayla said of her late grandmother. “She just made it her mission field.”
“I’ve told people for years this was grandma’s mission field. It really was. She reached people and she touched people. It was just who she was as a person. She just glowed this light of love. She loved everybody she ever touched. This is where she showed the love of Christ to people and we really try to keep that environment,” Jessica Barnes said.
Rogers and Jessica Barnes have had other jobs off and on through their adult years, but the restaurant has always been a mainstay to which they could return, and have, along with their husbands.
Jessica Barnes was a top-earning manager at a U.S. Cellular store until she was diagnosed with cancer. Still confronting some health issues, she said she felt she couldn’t return after her sick leave and give the 60 hours a week she did before and her perspectives had changed.
“We take care of our customers here different than out in the corporate world. I was ready to come back and take care of my customers the way I want to take care of my customers. We love it here. We love being here together,” Barnes said. “We give and we take and we all try to be here for each other.”
“And it’s a blessing to us to be a blessing to the community,” Rogers said.
That give and take has been very evident since the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant has not closed a single day of regular business, and customers continued to support them, even through the period of curbside pickups.
“We just rolled with the punches,” Rogers said.
“Most of our customers, our original customers, were giving our girls $10 and $20 tips. They were very grateful we stayed open. They just took care of us and they loved on us and we loved on them,” Jessica Barnes said. “It’s just what we do.”
The Hornet’s Nest is like a home away from home with an extended family, but it is still a job, and the family members still get frustrated with one another sometimes and there are days they don’t get along.
“But it’s always nice because we really are friends outside of being family and co-workers. Jess and I and our husbands hang together outside of work and we love each other’s company. We are each other’s best friends and mom is also our best friend,” Rogers said.
“This is just another thing we do together,” Jessica Barnes said. “We do music together. We fight cancer together. We do ministry together. We work together. We do everything together.”