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