Like Edward Lee McClain and many other homegrown talents, Frank Raymond Harris was a Greenfield native who made a tremendous impact on the community.
F.R. Harris was born April 10, 1880, the son of David M. and Sarah Schrock Harris and educated in the local schools, graduating from Greenfield High School with the class of 1897. He earned a bachelor of arts degree at Ohio Wesleyan University and the master of arts degree from Harvard University, and enjoyed a long career as an educator and administrator for the Greenfield schools, setting the tone of respect and reverence for the works of art that the McClain family so generously donated to McClain High School.
He served as principal of Greenfield High School during the years 1903-1909 and 1911-1915, and continued in that position when the new Edward Lee McClain High School opened in 1915. Harris was elevated to the position of superintendent in 1923, serving until his retirement in 1939. In recognition of his contributions, Harris was named superintendent emeritus on April 4, 1939, by the board of education.
Harris was a great believer in education and practiced what he preached. In addition to his advanced degree studies, he also did additional advanced work at the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University. In an autobiography, Harris noted that “a maternal great, grand uncle founded the town,” namely Gen. Duncan McArthur, who platted Greenfield in 1799.
With such a background it was no surprise that Harris became the community’s most prolific historian, writing “A Greene Countrie Towne” and “Hometown Chronicles,” which detail the history of Greenfield from its founding in 1799 through the sesquicentennial in 1949. In addition he penned “Itchin’ Feet,” an account of his extensive travels, and a book of poetry, “Roses in December.”
Known to many as the “Skylarking Pedagogue” because of his lifetime of travel, Harris was a popular speaker at various civic and social organizations and enjoyed sharing his stories of visits to strange and exotic lands such as India, China, Africa, and South America.
“I traveled during my summer vacations until retirement. Then I was able to travel year round,” he explained. Harris visited 128 countries and islands while circumnavigating the globe five different times, logging more than 1 million miles by commercial airlines.
One of those trips took him from the U.S. to Germany to see the 1936 Olympic Games. His roundtrip flight was on the dirigible Hindenburg, which tragically exploded the following year in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Some other notable experiences recorded by Harris: he crossed the Atlantic Ocean 32 times and the Pacific 15 times, and in 1958, he flew over the North Pole at the same time the USS Nautilus, the first atomic powered submarine, was crossing the North Pole under the Arctic Ice.
In addition to attending the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Harris was present at the 1948 Games in London, the 1952 Games in Helsinki, and the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia.
On Sept. 1, 1949, as part of Greenfield’s sesquicentennial celebration, the local alumni association presented McClain High School with a portrait of Harris that still hangs above the bust of Ginevra in the first floor hallway of MHS. The portrait is the work of Mark Russell, an artist from Columbus.
In 1964, Harris gave the school system another gift that has become part of local tradition. That gift was the bell tower, located southeast of the Gen. Duncan McArthur Building. The 135-year-old bell had served the Greenfield Seminary and the Old Central School. It now rings as a “victory bell” and at the close of commencement exercises. The bell and then the cupola were lifted into position on May 1, 1964, with the dedication as part of the 1964 commencement exercises.
Harris died April 1, 1965, at the Greenfield Municipal Hospital. His legacy lives on through the Greenfield schools, the ringing of the bell tower, and the books that have inspired subsequent generations.
On Labor Day Weekend 2015 (Sept. 4-5-6), McClain High School will celebrate its centennial with numerous special activities. For more information, visit mcclain100.org.
Ron Coffey is city manager of Greenfield and a member of the McClain Centennial Committee.