In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Harvey Harriman
March 25, 2010 -- Harvey Harriman, a 40-year Gunnison resident who had a distinguished career at Western State College and active role in local civic life, died at his S. Wisconsin Street home of natural causes Monday morning. He was 74.
Born and raised in Emporia, Kan., Harriman displayed a talent for music at an early age, noted his wife and current Gunnison City Council member Ellen Harriman.
His mother took in sewing and laundry work to earn money to pay for his piano lessons. While in high school, Harriman performed in several productions at the nearby college.
Harriman took a teaching position at WSC in 1969. He went on to serve as an associate professor of music, teaching voice, theory and choir, for 39 years. He was granted emeritus status when he retired in 2008.
Fellow WSC professor Martha Violett said Harriman welcomed her to the music department when she arrived in the early ’70s.
Those who knew Harriman, the professor, said he would invest a lot of time and care in his students, especially the ones who took an interest in theory and composition, two of his biggest loves in music. Violett said he was also quite a performer himself.
“I remember one very special performance in the Mini-Theater, now the Hatcher Theater, where Harvey played the Count in excerpts of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro,’” she recalled. “He loved opera and was a great actor on stage, a side of him that he only rarely let us see.”
In 1987 Harriman’s deep-seated roots with civic engagement resurfaced when he applied for, and received, an appointment to the City of Gunnison Planning and Zoning Commission. Ellen Harriman said his involvement in politics dates back to his early days, where being a Democrat in the heavily Republican state of Kansas took a lot of conviction.
“He was quite an idealistic person in a lot of ways,” she said. “He really believed in trying to make life better for everyone.”
He was elected to the Gunnison City Council in 1998 and served there until 2002, at which time he went back to the planning commission. He was a member of that board until the day he died.
City Manager Ken Coleman said Harriman’s “thoughtful handprint” can be found all over city policies that have been developed over the decades.
“He was an incredibly insightful man with an eye for detail and always had constructive ideas to offer in discussions of city business,” Coleman said. “He should be congratulated and thanked for his generous contributions to our community.”
Outside of campus or City Hall, Harriman loved to work in his yard and garden. Last year he added a greenhouse.
Mike Ritchey, who lives across the street, said he called Harriman “the Maestro” and would joke with him that his back yard efforts were setting the bar too high for the rest of the husbands in the neighborhood.
“I stood at the window Monday and looked over there, and realized I’d better get used to not seeing him,” Ritchey said. “He was a good neighbor and friend, not only to me but to Gunnison. No one has been more dedicated.”
Frank Venturo, a fellow longtime professor at WSC, has been a close friend of Harriman’s for many years. He said that Harriman exemplified the characteristics of a good citizen, that he lived a simple and prudent daily life, “long before sustainability was a buzzword,” and that his passing leaves a big void in the Gunnison community.
“I deeply miss my good friend but I take comfort from my reflection on the lessons I have learned as witness to his model behavior,” Venturo said.
Harriman leaves behind his wife of 46 years, Ellen; two daughters (Jeanine, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Dema in Houston); one son, Bill, in Denver; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for early summer.