B.W. Harrison

Saturday, September 18, 2004

William Winford "B.W." Harrison was a gentleman who quietly spent much of his time and money making his wife happy, even after her death.

Almost everything Harrison did after his wife, Hazel, passed away in 1990 honored her memory. When he gave Southeast Missouri State University $800,000 in stock toward the purchase of the former St. Vincent's Seminary, it was because Hazel was devoted to Old St. Vincent's Church.

When Harrison talked about Hazel, and he did so often, his voice softened and his mind seemed to travel back to their life together.

Though he wasn't a Catholic himself, he was married in the church in 1947 and served on its board of directors. Hazel was one of a group of people who refused to let the old church be torn down when the diocese separated the city's two Catholic churches geographically in the 1960s. Then they worked to restore the now-151-year-old church building and did so magnificently.

Now the old seminary is being transformed into the River Campus, the university's new School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Harrison died Monday at age 94. Until his death, he operated a farm in the Salem, Mo., area that had been in his family since 1852. He spent 40 years with the Missouri Extension Service, working as a state extension agent and an assistant county agent.

He loved working the land and living humbly. Even into his 90s, he could be seen at his house across the street from the former seminary standing on a ladder to clean his gutters.

Even when Harrison found out that a man whose education he was financing had cheated him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he never complained and certainly never felt sorry for himself.

Magnolia trees usually don't grow this far north, but Harrison had one of the first in Cape Girardeau. He gave shoots from his tree to friends and visitors. His tree is the father of dozens and perhaps hundreds of the magnolia trees in town.

Old St. Vincent's Church, the River Campus and Cape Girardeau's magnolia trees are striking reminders of B.W. Harrison's goodness and generosity.

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