Perspectives Online

Harris gift will fund horticultural scholarship endowment

At the July ceremony, John Harris (seated) and wife, Grace, (left, front) are joined by family members (clockwise from left, rear) Emmalee Hughes, Matt Warlick, Kim Parrish, Jim Hughes, Rand Harris and Rand Parrish.
Photo by Daniel Kim

On July 11, the John H. Harris Horticultural Scholarship Endowment was created in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. Harris of Raleigh is a 1937 graduate of N.C. State in landscape architecture and retired faculty member in the College's Department of Horticultural Science. The endowment, created in the N.C. Agricultural Foundation Inc., will be funded through proceeds from the sale of land that Harris has donated to the College. It will provide scholarships for CALS undergraduate students and Agricultural Institute students studying horticultural science.

Dr. Johnny Wynne, CALS dean, who presided at the agreement-signing event, welcomed Harris, his wife, Grace, and numerous friends and family members in attendance. Wynne spoke of Harris' service as a CALS faculty member, his 40-year tenure as the Tar Heel Gardener on a WPTF radio Saturday morning show and his designation as "Tar Heel of the Week" in 1965. He thanked Harris for his contribution of Pinehurst land to the Horticultural Science Department.

"It's my pleasure to make this small contribution to help some student who otherwise might not be able to come to N.C. State," said Harris, who reminisced about his own struggle to pay for his college education. He recalled borrowing $300 in 1932 so he could come to N.C. State and how he made that money last over his four years there.

Dr. Barbara Kirby, director of the Agricultural Institute, said, "I want to thank you on behalf of the students who are going to benefit from your generosity." Kirby said that there are now more than 5,100 students in the College - including roughly 376 in the Ag Institute and nearly 4,000 undergraduate students. "This (donation) will help us find that next Tar Heel Gardener or the next Bryce Lane to host 'In the Garden,'" she said.

Harris replied that when he was a student, there were 1,800 students at N.C. State and nine horticulture faculty members, "and they did all the work you folks do now!"

Harris further delighted the group with memories of a time when people in Raleigh would call N.C. State horticulture students to come do yard work. The pay was attractive enough that he switched his major from agriculture to horticulture to continue working those jobs. "I stayed in four different homes while going to school and paid by doing yard work and babysitting till I graduated in 1937," he said.

Harris also had the first student-owned automobile on campus - a Ford roadster, which he purchased for $25 and sold in his senior year for $75. It had no top, and he customized it with a rumble seat to hold his yard work tools.

"I'm now happy to make a contribution to someone who needs it as much as I did," he said.

Dr. Julia Kornegay, head of the Department of Horticultural Science, came to the event from the Landscape Bedding Field Day at the nearby JC Raulston Arboretum. Many of the department's successful graduates were in attendance, she said and noted that there are three generations of horticulture graduates in the Harris family.

"Thank you for your generosity in thinking of us," she said to Harris "The green industry in North Carolina is now worth $8.6 billion to the state's economy. We thank you for being one of the people who laid the foundation for that industry."

- Terri Leith