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Published: Tuesday, 9/15/2009

Toledo educator dedicated himself to students, sports

Donald R. Harris, 87, who taught high school science in Toledo and coached, officiated, or directed athletics programs from the 1940s into the 1980s, died Friday at an assisted living facility in Dallas.

The death followed a period of deteriorating health, his daughter, Mary Beth Harris, said.

Mr. Harris' teaching career spanned 40 years and included stretches at Waite, Libbey, and Bowsher high schools, as well as the former Holy Spirit Seminary and St. Ursula Academy, from where he retired in 1987.

His primary subjects through the years were biology, chemistry, and physiology.

A World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, Mr. Harris was known for his discipline and high standards in the classroom, as well as the thoroughness of his instruction. Students came to enjoy his creative humor, which often drew from the scientific terms of the day's lesson plan, his daughter said.

“It was definitely his calling,” Ms. Harris said. “He loved teaching and he would say, ‘I can't believe they're paying me to do this.'”

Mr. Harris began coaching at Libbey in 1947 as an assistant on the football and basketball squads. He later served as the head football coach during the 1955 season. His years as an athletic director started at Holy Spirit Seminary and continued at St. Ursula until his retirement.

He got his start as a teacher in physical education at Waite in early 1947, before moving on to the sciences at Libbey later that year. He later taught at Bowsher High School into the 1970s.

“You taught us honor, respect and discipline by example,” one Bowsher alumnus, Dan O'Connor, class of 1977, said in an online tribute. “We learned of DNA long before the TV show CSI.”

Born in 1922, Donald Harris was the son of a railroad engineer and a registered nurse and grew up on Woodsdale Avenue in South Toledo. He was a football standout while a student at Libbey and was a lineman on the 1938 team that won the city championship. A 1940 graduate, he recently was inducted into Libbey's Hall of Fame.

Mr. Harris went on to play football for five seasons at Bowling Green State University as his studies were interrupted by the war.

He entered the service in 1943 and spent 22 months in the Pacific Theater as a lieutenant.

He graduated from BGSU in 1947 and later received a master's degree from the University of Toledo. In 1957, he married the former Mary Jane Gorny, who died in 1994.

In more recent years, Mr. Harris became known in the area for the elaborate flower gardens he displayed outside his home in West Toledo at 4001 Rose Garden Rd. He kept more than 200 pots of flowers in his yard — begonias, impatiens, and marigolds abounded — and many he suspended from branches or strung from trees and posts.

He insisted on giving his visitors a cutting to take home, his daughter recalled.

“People came from all over the city to admire his flowers,” Ms. Harris said.

Survivors include his daughter, Mary Beth Harris, and two granddaughters.

Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Walker Funeral Home, Sylvania Avenue. Services are set for 4 p.m. Thursday at Christ Presbyterian Church, 4225 West Sylvania Ave., after a 3 p.m. burial in Toledo Memorial Park.

The family suggests tributes to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.



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