When John Acorn was in elementary school, he and his classmates would get their graded tests back from their teachers every Friday so that they could take them home and share them with their parents.
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
Three new historical markers at Clemson are tangible reminders of the University’s full history — a history not as idyllic as the well-manicured lawn of Bowman field and the picture-perfect walk by the library.
In April, University officials, trustees and guests broke ground for three double-sided markers: One at the intersection of South Palmetto Boulevard and Fernow Street Extension to commemorate a site where slave quarters stood on the plantation owned by John C. Calhoun and later by University founder Thomas Green Clemson; the second near Calhoun Bottoms farmland to commemorate the role of Native Americans and African-Americans in the development of the Fort Hill Plantation lands; the third near Woodland Cemetery to mark the burial sites of the family of John C. Calhoun, enslaved people and state-leased prisoners who died during their confinement at Clemson.
“The story of Clemson University’s founding is one of great vision, commitment and perseverance,” said President James P. Clements at the event. “However, it is also a story with some uncomfortable history. And, although we cannot change our history, we can acknowledge it and learn from it, and that is what great universities do.”
The markers are one way Clemson is working to give a more accurate public accounting of its history to acknowledge connections to slavery, segregation or other practices and viewpoints inconsistent with current institutional values.
During the event, Clements praised the work of Rhondda Thomas, associate professor of English, whose research on African-Americans who lived and labored at Clemson prior to desegregation spurred interest in the markers.
One of those stories is about Sharper and Caroline Brown, whose daughter Matilda was born into slavery but lived most of her life as a free woman. Matilda Brown’s granddaughter, Eva Hester Martin, 90, of Greenville, was a guest at the groundbreaking ceremony for the historical markers.
It’s a story Thomas pieced together from personal recollections backed up by photos, newspaper clippings, church and census records, and other documentation. The youngest of 10 children, Martin earned a degree in chemistry from S.C. State University, enjoyed a successful career as a medical technician in Chicago and Los Angeles, and raised four children.
“Our archives are a wonderful resource, and census records are a great help,” Thomas said. “For the convict laborers, however, the pardon records provide the strongest evidence of the men and boys who labored at Clemson, as the documentation specifies when they were released from Clemson College. But in some cases the records are incomplete or missing.”
Thomas hopes the University’s efforts to tell these stories will encourage more family members to come forward with information, photos, family Bibles or other materials that can confirm an ancestor’s connection to the University’s early years.
It is often said in the Army that master sergeants are the ones really in charge of their units, and there’s probably more than a kernel of truth in that in a university ROTC unit. The master sergeant trains cadets in tactical tasks such as land navigation, first aid, working as a team, weapons firing and small unit movements as well as instilling in them values of discipline, integrity and responsibility.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Francis “Sarge” Lewis filled that role at Clemson. He not only instructed cadets in the basics of military training, he also advised and coached the newly established rifle team as well as serving as chaperone for the band and cheerleaders. The rifle team is pictured with Lewis in the 1967 Taps, and the section on the team refers to it as “one of the newer sports at Clemson.” That year the team was ACC champions, 3rd Army champions, S.C. State Champions and the Western Carolina Conference champions. It noted that the team had placed as high as fifth in the nation in the National Rifle Association competition.
Lewis was such an established part of the Clemson community that, according to a story told by his brother, Joe Lewis, when the army tried to transfer him away from Clemson, President Edwards stepped in and managed to retain Lewis.
Longtime Clemson administrator Nick Lomax ’63 remembers Lewis both from his time as a student and from when he returned to campus as a staff member after two years in the military. According to Lomax, Lewis “had the perfect military posture, and his normal walk appeared to be a military march.” Lomax also commented on how helpful Lewis and his fellow sergeants — Burton, Gilbert and Purcell — were to “young cadets as we prepared for military service.”
When Lewis retired in 1967, he purchased the nearby Esso Station and soon replaced the small grocery section with a pool table, beginning the transformation of a gas station into the “Esso Club,” a gathering place for students and locals.
Lewis died on September 6, 2015. As his family wrote in his obituary, “The first part of his military career was spent growing and maturing into a professional solider; the last half was spent growing and maturing young men and women into productive American citizens.”
Thanks to Allen Wood for providing background on Lewis and his time at Clemson.
Perched on a hill overlooking Bowman Field, Clemson House has been home to faculty, staff, students and the families of more than one president over the past 65 years. Constructed in 1950 by Daniel Construction Company of Greenville, it was known as “Carolina’s smartest hotel.”
When it first opened, Clemson House featured a large dining room on the first floor, a club (non-alcoholic) on the lower level, seven stories of rooms and apartments, and a penthouse with the best view in town.
Originally intended to house faculty, staff and retired faculty, the apartment-style hotel was first pressed into limited service for student housing in the early 1970s.
The barbershop on the first level has weathered six decades of changing hair styles, offering both haircuts and conversation. Clemson House was also home to a radio station and broadcasting facility from the 1950s until the early ’80s.
In 1973, President Robert Edwards recommended changes to transition Clemson House into a dorm, but said that full-time residents could remain as long as they wished. None had the staying power of architecture professor Joe Young, who had been the first full-time resident in 1950. After five decades, Young said his goodbyes in 2000. The penthouse is named for him, as well as “Joe’s Place,” the bar located at the Madren Conference Center.
* Note: Corrected on 5/28/15 to reflect that the radio station housed at Clemson House from the 1950s until the early ’80s was not a student station. Thanks to Van Fair (the “F” in WSBF) for that correction.