Harrises vital to community
Dan and Peggy Harris don't need much time to convey their love for Baldwin City and Baker University. They glow with appreciation for the community that welcomed them 17 years ago.
Dan Harris is Baker's athletic director and chair of the Department of Physical Education. In addition to teaching in Baker's Department of Education, Peggy is the Chair of the Faculty Senate and she is in charge of the First Year Experience program, which orientates first year students with the Baker and Baldwin community.
The Harrises moved to Baldwin City in 1983 when Dan accepted the jobs of head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Baker. Dan left his job in the Grandview (Mo.) School District and moved to Baldwin City in July for summer football practices. He lived for two months in a dormitory, while Peggy and their two sons, Jay, now assistant principal at RaymorePeculiar (Mo.) High School, and Kit, now the journalism teacher and wrestling coach at Baldwin High School, sold their Grandview home.
The Harrises found a house in Baldwin City, just in time for their boys to start school. Peggy completed her job as a counselor at RaymorePeculiar High School, commuting from Baldwin each day.
After living in Grandview for seven years, the small town feel of their new home warmed them instantly. Dan said that he found Baldwin and Baker to be "the best of both worlds," both for recruiting purposes and living conditions. Their colleagues at Baker University and their neighbors in the Baldwin community welcomed them with open arms. This welcoming encouraged the Harris family to dive into their community, schools and the university.
With their sons in the Baldwin school system Dan and Peggy went right to work meeting others in the community. They logged countless hours supporting youth wrestling and the Baldwin High wrestling program, which Jay and Kit were involved in.
"What began to grow," Dan remembered, "as our sons were involved in the school system, and we were involved in their lives, we began to develop those community relationships, too. And that was just as rewarding (as the relationships at Baker)."
The Harrises quickly realized what attracts others to Baldwin City and to Baker. Aside from being connected with a nationally renowned university, the opportunities to be an active part in the lives of the people around them was exciting.
"If you wanted to be involved with any of the committees in town, I felt like you could," Peggy said. "You feel needed."
And needed they are. The Harrises are extremely involved in preserving the kinship that overwhelmed them when they first moved to Baldwin City. In addition to their work with youth wrestling, they have been a part of the Bert Nash Building Independence Board, AAUW, the Special Olympics, the BHS Booster Club, the Baldwin Arts Council and the Friends of the Library. Peggy is also on the board of directors for the Baldwin City Recreation Commission. They note frequently that their participation in the community has complemented their work and responsibilities at Baker University. They feel that having one foot on campus and the other in the city has been an advantage in terms of experiencing the entire spectrum of Baldwin City.
"A lot of people in the community understand the value that Baker brings to Baldwin and Baldwin brings to Baker," said Peggy. "What is really nice is to have community members come into Baker basketball games, plays or come to hear the speakers that we have. And those people see the advantages."
Both husband and wife agree that blending their university and city life together is crucial to getting the most out of their lives in Baldwin City. In the friendships they have formed both on and off campus, they made the kind of connection that is vital to the success of Baldwin City. These friendships, the Harrises say, are the heart of what will keep the spirit of Baldwin City strong as the city grows and changes in the future.
"If Baldwin is going to grow, then everything about the community has to grow at the same time," Dan said. "We've got to have the whole community work together."
Harris proudly referred to the success of the Bulldog Bash, a recent fund-raising effort to help bring junior high football to Baldwin that raised the entire $15,000 necessary to start the program.
"We had representatives from all facets of Baldwin life," he said.
When asked how Baldwin City can retain its small town feel, he mentioned the importance of community projects.
"Projects that keep the community working together are what will make Baldwin stay the same," he said.
They also believe there is a value in providing quality recreation and engaging activities for Baldwin residents. The ability to work and play where one lives produces the kind of pride that resonates from the Harris family.
"When you work where you live," Peggy said, "your efforts make where you live better."
As Baldwin City continues to attract residents and Baker University's enrollment increases, change will become a part of everyday life. And if Baldwin's new residents experience the same warmth and sincerity that the Harrises still look back on, that change will be for the better.
Four arms will surely be open to Baldwin City newcomers as Dan and Peggy Harris continue to return the favors they received 17 years ago.