October 5, 1927 ~ December 6, 2020

Born in: Clifton Forge, VA
Resided in: Asheville, NC

Cornelius E. “Cory” Hartbarger died Sunday, December 6, 2020, in Asheville, NC. Born the youngest of five in Clifton Forge, Va., to Vida Tilley Hartbarger and Cornelius “Neil” Hartbarger, he was known also to family members and childhood friends as Sonny. He grew up as a highly competitive athlete and musician in Clifton Forge and the neighboring community of Waynesboro.

War came and he left school to join the navy, serving in the Pacific Theater during the last stages of World War II.

After his discharge he returned home to finish high school. Following brief stints as a mail carrier, an FBI clerk, and a baseball player with the farm teams for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Athletics, he joined the Virginia State Police. During this time he met choir director Alice R. McConaughy when his brother James took him to choir practice. Cory and Alice married on August 30, 1951, and established their first home in Buchanan, Va. During that Spring, as a Virginia state trooper he escorted Princess Elizabeth of England, soon to become Queen, on her visit to George Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Alice and Cory’s first son, Neil, was born that May.

Determined to have a life with less drama but to continue making a contribution to others, he decided to become a teacher. He attended Northern Michigan University on the VA Bill, where he was a standout athlete, lettering in track and field and scouting for the football team. He graduated in 1955 and went immediately to a position in the phys ed department at New Trier High School, in Winnetka, Il., where their second son, Peter, was born. Several teaching positions took him and Alice to Decatur, Il., where son Christopher was born, and then back home to Waynesboro, Va., where son Stephen was born. From Waynesboro they moved to Bell Buckle, Tn., where they taught for a decade at the Webb School, a prep school founded in 1870. They next moved to Lithonia, Ga., where he became a trainer in the agent-development and certified-life-underwriting programs of Equitable Life Assurance. He retired in 1986, and they moved to a mountaintop home in Bridgeport, Al.

They missed the friendships they’d established in Tennessee, and so they moved back to a home in Shelbyville, where they could rejoin the church community where Alice had directed the choir. During their retirement they stayed in touch with many friends and family members, and made new friends. He also discovered the Senior Games and became a Senior Olympian in his eighties, receiving medals and ribbons in shot put, discus, and javelin. His last competition was in Birmingham, Al., in 2017.

As Alice’s health began to fail, they moved for the last time, to Asheville to be near son Chris and his family. He died in his home, with his sons caring for him during his last days.

Cory Hartbarger is survived by sons Neil, Peter, Christopher, and Stephen, daughters-in-law Juanita, Linda, Legaré, Kim, and Teri, grandson Errol, and granddaughters Emily, Loryn, Colleen, Jessica, and Natalie, and great-granddaughter Sadie, as well as his sister-in-law Mary Esther Cumberland, and numerous nieces, nephews, friends, and children of friends who consider him family. As a teacher his impact extended to shaping the lives of thousands.

At the time of his death he had just learned that his second great-grandchild is on the way.

Memorial contributions may be sent to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, https://www.stjude.org.

Groce Funeral Home Tunnel Road is assisting the family.


Funeral Home Assisting The Family:

Groce Funeral Home on Tunnel Road
856 Tunnel Rd.
Asheville, NC 28805


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  1. Uncle Sonny, i know you will be missed. your family truly loved and admired you and your life accomplishments
    you are a wonderful example to all
    we all love you

    • Dear Hal and Karen—

      Thanks for your kind remembrances. He’s the last of his generation, and now we have to carry on.

      Pop talked with God every day, and he was more than ready to go. We miss him, but we’re… not mad.


  2. ‘Coach’ meant to world to me and so many of my schoolmates. He and Alice nurtured those who needed nurturing, and were wonderful advisors and mentors for those needing direction. We will all miss having Coach with us on the rest of our journey. Rest in peace dear gentle man.

    • Wilson—

      So many memories! Thanks for your message. I talked with Tommy Woodson, and he was even more blunt: He said my folks made Webb “tolerable”! Cory Hartbarger had a fabulous 93-year run, and he did nearly everything he wanted to, except for living forever with my mom. And now he’s worked that part out, too.

      Have a wonderful Christmas.


  3. It was a happy day in Bell Buckle when “Coach ” showed up at Webb School. Must have been a mistake – they actually hired a great guy that truly loved and cared for us all. So glad that I did get to visit with him in his later years and introduce him to my youngest son Robert (Webb 2000) and wife Susan. Coach , please save us a spot in Heaven close to the Bar and Grill. All our love.

    • I think the thing he hated the most about his diabetes was that bar and grill thing. No more daiquiris, or whatever that nasty stuff he and his cronies used to drink at the beach.

      Thank you for your thoughts and memories. He really did love every one of you guys. Even the ones who had reservations about him!

  4. To Neil my roommate, to Peter, and to all the rest of the family I so sorry to hear of you dad’s passing. I was just talking about him on Friday (12/3). I know that he will be missed. 🙁

    • Jack—

      So good to see your name here, and thank you for the kind thoughts. He was bigger than life, and it’s heartening to see the many tributes here from those who respect and love him. Take care!


  5. I didn’t know Mr Heartbarger, but I read his obituary in the Citizen Times and was impressed with the important life of service he lived and his accomplishments. Condolences to his family.

    • Thank you. Yes, he was a one-in-a-million man, and my brothers and I are blessed to have had him for as long as we did. Be well.

  6. Cory was a wonderful coach, teacher and mentor. He and Alice were one of the most beloved faculty couples in the 150-year history of Webb School. My Class of 1968 was fortunate to have Coach join us for many of our reunions. We thought of him as one of us, and I’m sure other classes did too. He didn’t seem to get older so much as get stronger. His accomplishments as a Senior Olympian were truly inspiring. My heart goes out to my Webb contemporary Neil as well as Peter, Christopher, Stephen and the whole family. As Bruce Springsteen sang about someone he considered special, God “broke the mold” when he made Cory Hartbarger.

    • Charlie, it’s great to see your name and read your words. He was so proud of your class! You know he wouldn’t have shown up for just anybody. Well, yeah, I guess he might have. But he’d always talk about you guys after reunion weekend. And Lord, was he proud of your personal trajectory! Regarding “stronger” rather than “older,” I have a theory. You know the phrase about “age and cunning,” right? He was a stone-cold competitor, and he lulled the other guys with absolutely genuine friendship and warmth, and then when the chips were down he showed no mercy. And then he was your buddy again. I could never perfect that rhythm myself, but I was in awe watching it play out. Time and again!

      “Broke the mold” indeed. Be well!


  7. Just sending my condolences to Neil and the other Hartbarger family members, on the recent passing of Coach Cory, as we knew their father when he was the coach and gym teacher at Webb School. He was one of the kindest and most caring men I ever met. Blessings to him as he moves into the next phases of his soul’s journey, and to his family and all who knew and mourn his leaving us. ~ Saniel (Sandy) Bonder, Webb School class of ’68

    • Sandy—

      Thank you! Yeah, he’s in the bardo realm for a bit. Heaven only knows what form he’ll take next time around. But I know it will be joyful, because that’s how he lived this time around.

      Don’t think I didn’t notice, by the way, that Charlie got in right ahead of you, once again. Please take good care. And keep laughing.


  8. I was so sad to hear about Coach’s passing. He and Alice were true mentors , counselors and friend to so many young men while we grew up at Webb. My world feels a little colder today knowing that Coach is no longer here to warm it with his smile.

  9. While Uncle Sonny was not a biological uncle, he was by far my favorite uncle and a dear family friend to all of the Meeteer/Doyle clan here in Virginia. His friendship with my parents began in his senior year at Waynesboro High School where, by the way, he was inducted into it’s athletic Hall of Fame in his later years along with my husband Arnie and brother Wes. Uncle Sonny held me in the palm of his hand when I was born73 years ago, and ever since I have felt his genuine and gentle love for me and mine. When he and dear Alice moved back to Waynesboro, it was my privilege to babysit the four beautiful Hartbarger boys. You guys had the most wonderful parents and Arnie and I are so sorry for your loss. We will always remember the good times; introducing us to the OBX where hardly a summer has been missed since 1962. Alice sang at our wedding and a week of our honeymoon was spent in the Hartbarger cabin at Smith Mountain Lake. Sonny hooked Arnie up with his first insurance job; a career he worked at for 36 years. We owe so many of our blessings to our fellow believer in Christ Jesus. Rest In Peace dear, dear man. We rejoice in your newness! Arnie and Kathy

    • I want to write something, but the tears keep getting in the way. Y’all were his beloved children, just as Pete and Chris and Steve and I were, and you’ve made him so proud through the years and decades and lifetimes. Kathy, you and Cindy and Laura were the closest I ever had to sisters, and you were a gentle introduction to the ways of the gentle sex. And Wesley, at fifteen already a man’s man! And your dad—he and my father showed me how two grown men could just plain love each other, through thick and thin. (And thicker… but we don’t need to talk about that.) And your mom. Wow. Bette gave the notion of “the One Who Makes a Home” a deep meaning, as she went about her business and schooled a bunch of wild children (not all of them her own) in the way to behave.

      Arnie, you were the golden boy, the effortless athlete who just made Pop grin. Yeah, I remember all of that, with such happiness. Thank you all, and the extended Doyle-Meeteer clan, for being such an anchor for the Hartbarger family through all our wanderings. We always had a place to come home to.

      Love you!

  10. The last of the four amigos
    Homer Tomes
    Shirley Kiger
    Bill Meeteer
    Sonny Hartbarger
    They were best of friends in high school and left together to fight in WW II.
    The friendship lasted for a lifetime with children and grandchildren becoming good friends.
    Homer left the group first followed by Shirley and Bill and now the beloved Sonny.
    Thanks to our greatest generation! We will miss you all!
    Sonny, I still have the fishing rod you made for me!
    Much love,
    Wes and Alice Meeteer
    And family

    • Wesley, I still remember when my dad told me about Bill and that little kid who fell through the ice. He said, “That’s a real hero.” I never forgot that, because he was telling me, “This is how a man behaves in the world.” I also remember tagging along behind you, and how kind you were to me. You didn’t have to be (teenager’s prerogative), but that wouldn’t have been how your parents reared you.

      I wrote a longer note to Kathy because I still have a crush on her after fifty-five years, but please know how much your thoughts mean to me and my brothers. We sure do love y’all.


  11. Blessings to all of the Hartbarger family! We were so saddened about our sweet Sonny leaving us. What a part he played in our lives and will be missed by our whole family! So many years of love and laughter we experienced with Sonny and Alice and the Hartbarger family. An end of a great era!!

    • Dear Cindy—

      Pop wanted to leave the world a better place, and I believe he achieved that in spades. Now it’s our turn, and the next generation’s.

      Yes, it’s the end of an era, but it’s the opening of a new one. Let’s make it great, too. I fear time is growing short, and every decision we make now will have a powerful impact on what becomes of our world. We’re creating as we go, and it’s a seat-of-the-pants ride. Let’s be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.


      • No better words could be said Neil! Our fathers fought hard for our freedoms and yes, we need to cherish every minute we have. Hopefully we can keep in touch!

  12. Through tears I write in all truth ,Uncle Sonny was without a doubt an uncle to me and my siblings as well as my own children and he had our hearts! What an incredibly wonderful human being he was. As my siblings have touched upon he may not have been blood related but was our uncle in every sense of the word. There are so many treasured memories of the 4 amigos. We were Blessed to have Sonny in our lives. My love of the OBX started with him and now we have our own little piece of it to pass along to our children and grandchildren! Sonny used to bounce my own first born child on his knee singing “Pony boy, Pony boy!” I will never forget that vision in my mind. My children loved him as much as I did and only knew him because of his friendship with their grandparents. That showed me how special all of them were! Thank you Sonny for giving us so much love and fun times. I pray all of you boys will find peace in your memories of your dad as I know all of the Meeteer, Doyle and Atkins clan will! Sending our love and heartfelt knowledge that Sonny is now dancing and singing with all of those that passed before him!

    • “Pony Boy!” Now you’ve got me crying.

      We all react to grief differently, but I think all four of us were peaceful from the get-go, because he was. Like I wrote to his nephew Hal, he talked to God every day, and they were straight. So he was ready whenever.

      Speaking of dancing, did you know he taught ballroom dancing at his first teaching job, at New Trier High School in Illinois? Ann-Margret (Olsson) was one of his students. And he danced beautifully with his granddaughter at her wedding.

      Thank you for loving us. That’s what he left us—you, and so many more. He left us in a big circle of love. Quite a legacy, I’d say.

  13. Coach was a great teacher and friend, even if you didn’t know it then. I was a freshman at Webb in the spring of 1969. One day I told Coach that I hadn’t missed a day of gym all year long and that I wanted a day off. He looked at me and said, “Son, you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to.” And important lesson at an early age.

    • Wow, Bill—thank you for that. He wasn’t always warm and fuzzy, but he wasn’t unkind, either. (But I guess the good lessons are like that. They wouldn’t make much of an impression, otherwise.)

      My dad did a lot of things and filled a lot of roles during his lifetime, but I think at his core he was a teacher, no matter what. And to do that job well you have to love and respect people, even (especially) young people. He listened to you, and then he responded to your thoughts reasonably. And that’s why you heard him, and why you remember it now.

      How cool is that?

  14. Coach Hartbarger was an unfailingly kind and generous man. And often amused by our boyish antics. One story: I will never forget that he picked me (me!) as the one student to play on their short-handed team for a faculty vs junior class basketball game during a parents visiting weekend. Coach Hartbarger and Mr. Mulholland just kept passing the ball to me and telling me to shoot it. And I did! Man, that was fun. They were all about team, not self. Lesson learned.

    • Yeah, you were just tall (kidding! although you were tall). Good to hear from you, my friend.

      “team, not self.” Yeah, that was his way. And, as he counseled one of his friends at the Senior Games, “The medal doesn’t matter. What matters is you tried.” These are simple ideas that last a lifetime. Just like the friendships he built. The flood of loving memories from so many folks is overwhelming, in a very good way. We can only hope to have a fraction of that impact on our own trip around the merry-go-round.

      Time to get cracking!

  15. Neil and Family Members – I did not know your Dad, but I got a hint of his spirit from his first born Neil Hartbarger who is kind, inquisitive, energetic and more. I so enjoyed reading the obituary and learning about Mr Cornelius Eugene Hartbarger’s life; how he inspired many lives through his teaching and senior Olympian activities, which he started in his 80s and only recently “retired” in 2017. Wow. Wishing you all peace and smiles as you reflect on the memories of this very special person, your Dad, Granddad, Great Grand, friend and loved one by so many.

    God bless.

    • Dear friends,

      Thank you. Yeah, he was all of that. The flood of email and comment memories is actually awe inspiring. Thanks also for your thoughtful gift in his name to St. Jude’s. Doing good in the world is what he was all about.



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