McCook fortunate to have been home for John T. Harris
With a booming voice, southern drawl and twinkling smile, John T. Harris made a lasting impression on all he met. It took only one encounter to make new acquaintances feel as if they had known John T. all their lives.
That's why -- nearly a quarter of century after moving south to retire -- John T.'s death this week at age 96 was a major topic of discussion in McCook.
John T. Harris made a difference in this town and this town ... a significant difference.
In his 35 plus years in McCook -- from 1945 to the early 1980s -- John T. was among the most active and prominent business and civic leaders in the community's history. You can get an inkling of John T.'s extensive record of public services by reading his obituary, which includes a long list of his presidencies and chairmanships.
But, to truly get a sense of John T.'s contributions, you need to know how intense and focused his service was. When John T. Harris took on a task, he didn't do it halfway -- he went all-out to make certain the goal was reached, if not exceeded.
Consider, for example, McCook's Diamond Jubilee in 1957. As chairman, John T. not only spearheaded a successful, well-attended celebration, he raised enough funds to finance additional McCook projects.
John T. brimmed with ideas, which was part of the fun of knowing him. One of the most successful marketing programs in the community's history was John T.'s promotion of Gro-Mo with early morning radio commercials. As Walt Sehnert recalled in one of his 2004 columns, John T. would start those ads with his familiar southern drawl, saying, "Mista Fah-ma, increase your yields with Gro-Mo."
His business leadership included many years as the manager of DeGroff's Department Store, and the development of the Sunrise Addition, a tract of 60 houses in west McCook. On the state level, he uplifted the aviation industry as chairman of the Nebraska Aeronautics Commission, and on a regional level he was a vocal member of the Board of Directors of the Omaha Branch of the Kansas City Federal Reserve.
The service John T. provided lives on, through his business and civic contributions. But, of even greater importance, is the inspiration he provided through his commitment to getting involved, staying involved and not quitting until the goal is achieved.
John T. Harris made a difference. We are fortunate that the middle years of his life were spent in this town and this state.