Barth comes full circle in life’s journey


FERDINAND — When 1994 Forest Park Junior-Senior High School graduate Phil Barth talks to current students, he plans to encourage them to be open to opportunities, even if they’re not exactly what they want or what is expected of them.


Barth is this year’s Southeast Dubois School’s Profile in Success Alumni Award recipient, and part of what is expected in winning the award is sharing his post-high school experience with current students. Barth’s life led him away from and then back to Dubois County and through a few career moves, but, ultimately, a willingness to say yes to new opportunities is what led Barth to his current career as a chef at Sultan’s Run, a career he said he truly enjoys.

After graduating from Forest Park, Barth attended Purdue University, earning a degree in electrical engineering technology. He’d been good at math and science in school, he recalled, so engineering seemed like a good career. The degree led him to a job as an applications engineer with Parker-Hannifin in San Francisco. That didn’t last long. After two years at Parker-Hannifin, Barth left the engineering field due to a repetitive motion injury. He moved back to Dubois County.

While searching for ways to heal the injury, Barth discovered yoga and went on to become a yoga instructor. When he moved back to Dubois County, he took over Fire Horse Yoga, Massage and Wellness in Jasper. Around the same time, he started researching nutrition and how to use food to support health.

“That’s really when I got interested in food more than any other time in my life,” Barth said.

He took a job with Tim Flick working in the kitchen at the Jasper County Club. There, Barth discovered he could work 40 hours a week in a kitchen without aggravating his injury. He decided to pursue a culinary career, and traveled to New York City to earn a degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. From there, he and his wife, Dana Weidenbenner, moved back to California so Weidenbenner could pursue a degree in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. While Weidenbenner studied, Barth built a career in catering and personal chef services.

Although Barth and Weidenbenner were living far from their hometowns in Dubois County, Barth said the skills and work ethic the area gave him provided a solid foundation for everything he did.

“No matter what I’m doing, that helps me everywhere I go,” Barth said.

He also still uses the math skills he developed as an engineer. Although being a chef allows him a lot of creativity, he said, there’s a lot of math that goes into managing a professional kitchen. When he builds a menu, he’s also thinking about the cost of food and labor. Spreadsheets are his best friend.

When Barth and Weidenbenner decided to start a family, they wanted to be closer to their families in Dubois County. In 2013, Barth accepted the job as food services director for St. Meinrad Archabbey, and he and his family have lived in the area since. He and Weidenbenner currently live in Jasper with their two children, Quinn Weidenbenner, 7, and Parker Barth, 5.

Barth realizes his life’s journey isn’t typical for Dubois County, and he’s OK with that. The journey helped him find a career he loves and that feeds his need for creativity. He hopes his story can inspire current students to follow a path that brings them joy, even if it isn’t the typical path expected of youth.

“What you can take away from school and use isn’t always apparent,” he said. “Talking to someone who has lived outside the area and found something they really enjoy doing, I think, would be something important to share with them. And to recognize that you can come back [to Dubois County] and have a fulfilling life.”

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