Barney Mullen, who lives at Lura Turner for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, has worked at the Denny’s at 7th Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix since the spring of 1978, when Lura Turner herself secured the job for him.
In 1965, Turner saw a need to provide a home for persons who had developmental disabilities. Young adults were being transitioned into the community from the Arizona’s Children’s Colony, and many were unable to live independently or with their families. Barney was one of those people.
“So, we are his family,” said Max McQueen, who served on the Lura Turner board for 22 years, and now as the executive director for the past 19 years. McQueen said that Turner noticed that Barney was the best dishwasher at his home and went in search of a job for him, setting her sights on Denny’s.
“So, she came up here and brought Barney — we’re talking ’76, ‘77 — and they didn’t want to hire him, and they didn’t want to hire him. Now, Miss Turner was one of those women… [she said] ‘Well, you’re gonna hire him sooner or later, so hire him now.’ So that was ‘78. And he’s been washing dishes here ever since.”
McQueen added, “And now Denny’s is his family.”
The Denny’s at Camelback and 7th Street also has been a mainstay in Phoenix. The location opened in 1956, according to manager Joe Wood, who has been there for 14 years himself. He says that what they have at their location is kind of special, which is why they started celebrating Barney’s work anniversary when he hit 30 years, in 2008.
“He’s like family to all these girls. They all look out for him. We have some pretty long tenured employees. One of our cooks has been here 28 years. It’s kind of unusual. So even those guys are looking out for him all the time.”
One of his long-time coworkers, Candias Cerny, said, “I’ve actually known and worked with Barney for over 25 years. He is a very hard, dedicated worker; shows up on time. People love him.”
Noemy Giles has worked at the Denny’s for about a year and a half, but she’s known Barney much longer.
“I’ve been here ever since I was a little girl and my parents introduced me to Barney when I was younger. And it has always been so nice and fun to see him be around here, he makes me smile a lot when he giggles. And every time he’s at a table, he turns around and says, ‘I did it, huh?’”
Wood also sings Barney’s praises. “When I first started working here 14 years ago, he was working five days a week. He’s down to two days a week right now. He’ll still out-work most people here, but he’s getting a little older.”
He added, “We’ll just continue to have him here until he doesn’t want to be here.” But he doesn’t see that happening any time soon. “I get a call from him every Sunday. He works the exact same shift. Every Sunday I get a call from him around 2:30, 3:00, ‘Hey Joe, I’m working tomorrow, right?’ ‘Yeah, me and you buddy.’ He likes to tell people, ‘He can do it.’ He’s the only one that can do it.”
Barney himself is a man of few words, but he did share that some of his duties include cleaning the tables and washing dishes. And he really likes his coworkers, who he says are nice to him. He doesn’t have any hobbies; he says that after work, he just likes to go home to the Turner House.
People tend to stop by just to say “hi” or to check on Barney, especially when the pandemic first hit, and he had to stay home from work.
“It’s kinda hard to explain,” Wood said, “but it’s pretty cool. In all my years, I’ve never seen something like this.”
This year, after a two-year break, Denny’s is resuming its annual anniversary party for Barney. The public is invited to celebrate his 44 years of exemplary service from 4 to 10 p.m., Wednesday, April 20, at Denny’s, 5002 N. 7th St.
Whether guests dine in or order to go, 20 percent of all sales that day will be donated to Lura Turner Homes for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, home to Barney and other adults with special needs.
Photo Credit: Kathryn M. Miller