Archie HarrisNORMAL – Archie Harris was remembered with stories that were not just filled with lessons passed on as a coach to his students as Swimming and Diving Coach for all or parts of three decades for Illinois State University, but also as a mentor and friend during a memorial service held Saturday, Sept. 17 at First United Methodist Church in Normal.

“How he lived his years had a powerful effect on each of us,” explained Florida resident George Brenco, a former ISU Swim Team member under Harris in the early to mid-1970s. Brenco and his family remained friends with Harris and his family for years following Brenco’s graduation from ISU.

“Our time on Earth is certainly filled with purpose,” Brenco told the gathering. “Archie’s life was filled with purpose.”

In addition to his coaching career which lasted at ISU from 1957 until he retired in 1982, Harris served as co-director of Easter Seals Camp, which began under the moniker McLean County Crippled Children’s Camp, at Camp Heffernan on Lake Bloomington near Hudson from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Harris had been associated with the camp for years though before being tapped as co-director.

Harris died April 11 at age 93, in Willowbrook, Ill., where he had been living with his daughter’s family.

“In his 93 years, what a difference he made and how he enriched the people who crossed his path,” Brenco stated, adding his own first encounter with Harris came in 1972 when Harris offered him a scholarship to attend ISU as a member of the Swim and Diving Team. “He believed in me and let me know it. I wanted to swim fast and be the best student I could be because I didn’t want to let him down.”

Brenco became a Special Education teacher – the result of Harris’ encouraging him to become a member of the Camp’s counseling staff. Working at the camp, Brenco said, “Allowed me to meet many special people who had an impact on my life.”

“Camp was a magical place, just a magical place,” added another former Swim Team member, Paul Beiersdorf, now a Peoria resident, in addressing the service. He recounted how the camp had been started by Clifford E. “Pop” Horton, who served as director of health and physical education from 1923-1961 for what was then known as Illinois State Normal University, then later ISU.

Beiersdorf said the camp was set up as a college course to give students an opportunity to learn about interacting with children with disabilities. In effect, the students were taking a course while caring for the kids, Beiersdorf explained.

Beiersdorf said that as a result of how Harris helped the camp and its student staff flourish through their experience, as well as because of how he lived his life, “if Archie didn’t make it to Heaven, then none of us have a chance.”

Rev. Greta McDonald, minister at First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, knew Harris while he lived with his daughter and her family during his last years. “Even at that time in his life when he was not at full strength, when it was much harder for him to express himself, when he was aged, I saw in him a remarkable man,” McDonald told the gathering.

McDonald said those who knew Harris as their college instructor “probably marveled at his talent and stamina and skill and teaching technique and its effectiveness. But those who knew him as a swim coach, knew him as a person, who, along with his wife, Harriett, opened their home to you.” Harriett Harris died in 2012.

McDonald said she learned swim members could “drop in for supper anytime and often did.” That sometimes meant there would be between 5-10 unexpected dinner guests for the Harrises as a result.

He was an excellent teacher and coach and could bring out the best of a person’s talents,” McDonald told the gathering. “But more lasting was the personal care and open home and open heart he shared with his students.”

“He was a remarkable person because of what he made of his life,” McDonald said.

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