GRIEF Journey: Dedicating a Teacher’s Legacy

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When someone passes, there exists the temptation to idolize and place that person on a perfection pedestal.

In reality, we are all human- full of quirks and flaws. As was my Dad. An earnest, hard-working, believe-the-best-in-everyone man. His faith could move mountains, and his nature settle the most anxious of nerves. But in high school I’d wished I’d understood him better. How I teased him about “getting in touch with his feelings”. We nearly stopped talking over his panic at trying to teach me to drive. Over the years we didn’t always see eye-to-eye or agree. Our relationship strengthened when I married, and when grandkids came, well, stick-a-fork-in-him, watching him in the grandpa role won a new-found love and respect.

Dad wasn’t a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, or rich, or by any means “big” in the worlds eyes. But he was gentle, and ever-present, and loved my Mom like nobody’s business. I’m all-the-more thankful for dad’s genuine qualities because they cemented His yearning for a Savior, and rooted a truth that no one is perfect, no matter how wonderful.

Of course, as his family, we believed him to be the best. So it’s always soul-satisfying when others acknowledge his gifts and intentional character as we knew him to be. Which is exactly what happened last week in a profound way! The administration at Villegas Middle School, the place where Dad taught “the youth of America” since its doors first opened, honored his teaching legacy by revealing the Dean Harris Multi-Purpose Room. Like pull-the-curtain-back-and-display-bold-silver-letters-on-the-side-of-a-building dedication.

Crazy, right? How often do we drive by buildings with a person’s name lavished on the facade and wonder their story? They must have done something incredible. How humbled and proud I am to say I intimately knew the man to who the Dean Harris Multi-Purpose Room was dedicated. And he was incredible. Simply by being.

It was quite the celebration. Teachers from his original pod and friends of mom’s, sacrificed a teaching day and got substitutes so they could set up the MPR assembly. For weeks, Home EC students had measured dry goods and peeled carrots for the baking fest of home-made desserts and carrot cake bread. Hours of choir practice translated into a stage full of students singing in dad’s honor. Former students came from the high school to speak. Not a detail was spared as the stage was decorated with school desks, coca-cola bottles, Hawaiian hints, and a backdrop ideally stating ‘Enjoy the Journey.’

I was a wreck the moment I walked in. Ty squirmed on my lap as the choir prepared to sing. It was then he saw it- Papas picture framed on the wall, a plaque underneath stating his school responsibilities, and a quote he lived by. Oh, gasped Ty, is Papa going to surprise us and come out and sing too? The innocent question brought a flood of tears. Precious boy, at three he still doesn’t fully grasp that his grandpa is gone forever from earth.

The program was beautiful; the note most commonly sung of Dad’s integrity and care for others. One teacher cried as he recounted how Dad had faithfully prayed for his wayward son. Students took minutes to compose themselves, clearly still in the throes of grief, before detailing the ways Dad had encouraged them as people first, and students second. Story after story about Mr. Harris; the teacher, Mr. Harris; the friend, Mr. Harris; the colleague. I could not have been more proud. What a perfect depiction of, while missing him, seeing firsthand the legacy and character ripples his life continues to touch on that campus- from the janitor to the superintendent.

After the festivities, the janitor was cleaning, overheard this sweet conversation, and relayed it to Mom the following day. She’d been picking up trash and noticed two eighth-grade boys staring at dad’s picture. A sixth grade girl approached them and asked what they were looking at. We’re looking at Mr. Harris’ eyes, they told the young girl. Mrs. Harris says the eyes are the window to the soul, and we want to see what Heaven looks like.

Well Dad, if your legacy whispers of heaven, that’s a mighty fine way to be remembered. I’m so proud of you – an earnest, hard-working, believe-the-best-in-everyone man. Wise is the individual who can draw out the hidden gifts of another and reflect it to the world. That, my friends, was Dad.

The next time you drive by a dedicated building, you can smile as you think about the story of Dean Harris, a teacher who loved his students and fellow teachers, and while imperfect, left a grand impression on that campus, and in the lives of all who knew him.

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“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results… but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
― George R.R. Martin

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