MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Fort Gibson

March 10, 2014

Lasting impact: Longtime educator a lifelong inspiration

For many who grew up in Fort Gibson, the name Harrison evokes memories from school years.

“I taught for 20 years. I was a principal for nine years and a superintendent for 14 years,” John Harrison said.

To many, he is more than a former Fort Gibson teacher or principal, he is a lifelong inspiration.

“He was the kind of man that helped form the values and morals we have,” said Budo Perry, a student and longtime friend of Harrison’s. “When we look back, we can see how important those people were.”

Harrison grew up in Monroe, a town he says isn’t there anymore. He has lived in Fort Gibson for almost 65 years.

In order to be closer to his family, Harrison has decided to move to the Norman area. It was 1949 when Harrison moved to Fort Gibson.

“When I moved here, Fort Gibson was just a little town,” Harrison said. “I think we had about 1,200 people. Now, I think there’s like 3,000 or so,” Harrison said.

Harrison married his wife, Ruth, in 1948.

“We were married 60 years before she died,” Harrison said.

Harrison and his wife grew and sold fruits and vegetables in a red fruit stand that’s in front of Harrison’s house.

“She’s the one that started the fruit stand,” he said. “She enjoyed it.”

Throughout the 60 years of marriage, the couple’s faith in God remained strong, Harrison said.

“I believe that’s about all that’s really important, is our relationship to our Lord,” he said.

The couple had two daughters, Linda and Carol. Harrison has three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Being an educator and making Fort Gibson a successful school system was a major role in Harrison’s life.

“One of the most memorable moments is when I received a letter from the president of Northeastern (State University) saying the best students they had came from Fort Gibson,” Harrison said.

Harrison inspired students in the rural town to continue their education.

District Attorney Larry Moore said Harrison gave students the foundation they needed to succeed.

“He had faith in us to allow us to go on to college,” Moore said.

Perry said Harrison is a man who leads by example.

“He believed in what he was doing, and he expected us to do the right thing,” Perry said.

“Everyone has teachers and mentors that mean a lot to them,” Perry said. “Mr. Harrison was one of those in my life and several others.”

Harrison laughed when he recalled stories about his students. One in particular involved Moore.

“I busted him,” Harrison said.

Moore said he deserved the unforgettable punishment.

“On the last day of my 11th grade, I never will forget it. My cousin and I broke the rules,” Moore said.

Harrison had to discipline the boys for bringing plastic squirt guns to school.

Moore recalled what Harrison said to Moore and his cousin before he inflicted their punishment.

“He said, ‘Boys, you know I don’t want to do this, but you know what the rules are.’”

Harrison was a major part of the school systems but also was involved in the community.

“He was always giving back,” Moore said.

Moore’s father learned about pecans from Harrison.

“He would have outside seminars for farmers and ranchers to come to,” Moore said.

Harrison said he will miss many things in Fort Gibson but especially the bonds he has made in his years in Fort Gibson.

“That’s the bad thing about leaving, is all the friends I have.”

Moore said Fort Gibson will miss Harrison.

“We are going to lose the presence of a great man, but we will never lose the impact on the community. It will never be taken away from this community,” Moore said.

Reach E.I. Hillin at (918) 684-2926 or ehillin@muskogeephoenix.com.

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