Bloom Where You're Planted

Brooks Center Director Lillian U. Harder, set to retire in 2017, reflects on her 44 years at Clemson.


One year.

That’s how long Lillian “Mickey” Harder, director of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, and her husband planned to stay in Clemson when they arrived in 1972. Sitting in her office 44 years later, she reflected on the course of her life. “Sometimes we need to relax and take what comes,” she mused, “because if anyone had ever told me that I would have ended up doing what I’ve been doing, I would have laughed out loud.”
Harder, who will retire this year, knows the surprises life can hold. She began teaching piano at age 16 in her hometown of St. George, South Carolina, and believes she was destined for a career in education: “To take students who knew absolutely nothing about music and to be able to turn them on to something that they could use for the rest of their lives was awe-inspiring.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Coker College and her master’s degree from Converse College, Harder’s first college job offer wasn’t the right fit. “I had the heart to know something else was out there,” she said. She never thought that “something” would be Clemson. Harder’s husband returned from service in Vietnam to serve as a physician on the staff of Redfern Health Center. Though doubtful she could pursue music at a University primarily known for engineering and agriculture, Harder reluctantly accepted a one-year teaching appointment in the music department.
One year turned into many. Rising through the ranks to full professor, Harder taught piano and other music courses for 24 years. In 1986, she and her husband established and funded what would become her legacy: the Lillian and Robert Utsey Chamber Music Series. Named in honor of her parents, the series has featured up-and-coming classical musicians, free of charge, for over three decades. Harder was in charge of booking those musicians for 10 years before receiving the opportunity of a lifetime in 1996.
That was the year she was offered the position of director by performing arts department chair, Chip Egan. “I was really very reticent about doing it,” she said. “I loved the classroom, and I felt very successful in that.”
Two pieces of advice ultimately swayed her. Egan himself told her, “Your classroom is just going to be bigger.” In a speech honoring co-education at Clemson, news anchor and Clemson graduate Jane Robelot said, “Those of us who can, have to do, because there are a lot of people who can only dream.” With that, Harder accepted the position and has spent two decades at the helm of Clemson University’s only performing arts center.
There is perhaps no better illustration of Harder’s favorite saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” than her own life. “I think, sometimes, we just have to go with things and be determined that we’re going to do and be the best that we can,” she said. “Things happen for a reason, and they usually turn out pretty darn well.”

— Thomas Hudgins


4 replies
  1. Julie C. Koehler
    Julie C. Koehler says:

    Mrs. Harder was my Music instructor when I was in the ED program at Clemson in the early 1990’s. I loved hearing her play the piano (I played also but nowhere near as well) and her style was – to understate it – engaging. The class inspired me to come up with a new way to study (using a matrix) for when I had to remember details about many related things. She clearly absolutely LOVED what she did and she had a great sense of humor. I know it was expected of us but I didn’t want to get less than an A in her class (and didn’t). And….I still have my CDs that were part of the course (about 24 years later!) Even now, every time I hear that familiar Mozart piece, I hear her saying in class to help us remember the music: “Mozart’s in the clo-set! Get him out, get him out, get him OUT!”

    • Lou Ann Masters Brennan
      Lou Ann Masters Brennan says:

      Me too! Mozart in the closet makes me laugh on a regular basis. She taught my music appreciation class in the late 1970’s and I took applied piano from her as well, beautiful thoughts and memories of her, and to Doc too who saw me a couple of times.

  2. Glenn Hare
    Glenn Hare says:

    I had the great pleasure to work at the Brooks Center for 13 years under the direction of Lillian Harder. I can say without hesitation that my time there was a complete joy, especially because of Lillian’s leadership and vision. Her dedication to the arts was undaunted. Her desire that others experience the arts was unquestioned. And her drive to bring the very best performers to campus uncompromised. Clemson University, the surrounding communities, the Palmetto State and I, personally, have benefitted greatly from her passion. I wish Lillian and her husband, Byron, all the best as they enter this new phase of their life.

  3. Donna Eggers Nichols, '83
    Donna Eggers Nichols, '83 says:

    Oh yes, she was successful in the classroom! Although I took Music Appreciation from her as an “easy A,” i learned so much from her. All three of my children, two at Clemson in Tiger Band, and the other was at Furman in the Paladin Regiment, inherited that, much of which I credit to Lillian.
    She was an informative, compassionate, and magnetic instructor. I always looked forward to learning more about the background of the different periods of music, and when my 3 were auditioning for all-county, all-region, and all-state, i smiled and thought of her. Best of luck in your retirement!


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