GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD)– Barton Deiters fought like hell.
He fought for the craft he loved, journalism, first as a newspaper reporter, then on TV.
He fought against a disease that left him waiting a decade for a liver, until a young woman’s gift in her death gave him new life.
For the last seven months, he fought against West Nile virus, from a mosquito bite, that sent him back and forth from hospital, to nursing care, to his home and finally, back to a nursing home.
He fought to live long enough for his close friends and family, including his wife, Lorena, and children, Harrison and Sophie, to be there with him at the nursing home when he died on Friday.
Barton was 56.
Barton spent a professional career of more than 30 years in journalism casting a wry, analytical (if not playful) eye on the world around him.
He wasn’t your typical TV reporter, at least he didn’t dress like one, sporting mismatched suits and Converse Chuck Taylors, Clark Kent glasses and a wry smile.
A native of Wyoming, Mich., Barton grew up steeped in all the great analog traditions of the 1970s, cultivating a bold sense of style.
That cemented his reputation as a keen observer drawn to the plight of the underdog.
First as a print journalist at the Grand Rapids Press and then later at News 8, Barton was respected for his commitment to truth and fairness. At The Press, Bart held a beat the paper called “Justice Reporter,” an apt title for the unabashed comic book fanatic who never missed an opportunity to discuss the intricacies of a court case or the hidden merits of a grilled cheese burrito.
Arcane, irreverent and innovative, Bart’s use of social media and other technologies enhanced courthouse coverage, and he was a well-known fixture around the halls of the county court clerk’s office where he routinely perused the docket in search of his next story.
“Bart has been an incredible journalist and dedicated his all to this community,” News 8 News Director Dan Boers said. “His tireless pursuit of the truth influenced change and will be remembered well into the future.”
“We have all been pulling very hard for Bart over the past couple months. He brought so much to our newsroom, both professionally and personally. He’s a fan-favorite co-worker whose wry wit, ability to use creative phrasing and his spot-on local restaurant reviews prompted many laughs in the newsroom,” Boers said. “His grizzled, no-nonsense, old-school journalism and intimate knowledge of the local crime beat and court system made him a fitting part in our newsroom, and that knowledge and experience can’t be replicated.”
Former News 8 photojournalist Bilal Kurdi, who grew close to Bart’s family, remembered Bart as a “fantastic friend and brother whose love for food, life and family made you live life better as husband, father and son. He was an original whose mold was cast aside to make the rest of us mundane folk.”
“Barton became a big brother to me when I joined the News 8 team,” former anchor Lynsey Mukomel said. “He probably wouldn’t like the comparison, but it’s true. I will cherish our time sitting next to each other in the newsroom and miss his sarcastic quirks more than anyone will ever know.”
“My respect for Bart sparked the first time I watched one of his reports. He was a journalist first and TV broadcaster second,” Mukomel added. “I admired his focus on the facts rather than finding ways to work himself into the story. This business needs more Bartons and losing him leaves a gaping hole that will be felt beyond the News 8 newsroom.”
Barton was well-acquainted with the fragility of life. After 10 years of waiting on the transplant list, Bart received the gift of life in 2012 in the form of a new liver — on of all days — Halloween.
Halloween would represent Bart’s treat to life’s trick, a new beginning and a second chance at life. He was always quick to acknowledge his donor and her family for their selfless gift.
For all the attention acclaim and awards, Bart considered his family his truest measure of success. As he wrote in the caption for one photo of his family, “This… is what it’s all about.”
Lorena, his wife of nearly 29 years, was his self-described “partner in crime.”
“She makes every day better and my life a joy,” Bart wrote. “Color me lucky.”
WOOD TV8 thanks Lorena and Bart’s children, Harrison and Sophie, for sharing him with us.
Make no mistake, Barton Deiters understood the cruel irony of the inconceivable fate to befall him. That the damage done to his body and mind could be caused by a mosquito that transmitted the West Nile Virus. What kind of superhero succumbs to something as preposterous as that?
Upon his diagnosis in the fall of 2020, Barton was determined to fight. He went from a ventilator and a feeding tube to the first steps at rehabilitation. He learned to use his voice again and to gain some function of his body that would betray him.
When Bart emerged triumphant from Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation hospital in March, his family and his former WOOD TV8 coworkers were cheering him on with so much hope. He knew he was loved. And he was going home.
He was our hero. Godspeed, Barton.