Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Educator George Harris Dies at 95
Early Hart High School principal spent nearly 30 years with district.

George Harris A pillar of both the William S. Hart Union School District and Hart High, George Washington Harris died early Sunday morning, Jan. 8, 2006. He was 95.

The charismatic educator was the first full-time principal of Hart in a career that spanned from 1948 to 1965. He later served as district superintendent. His mark on local education is still felt today.

"I'm just devastated that somebody I felt would go on forever, his life would come to an end," said Laurence Strauss, former Hart High principal from 1983 to 1997. "Whatever the Hart District is today, he was there back in the early days with all the planning and the setting of the high standards of the district and the school."

Harris' youngest son Lee Harris said many knew his father "for his easy laugh, sense of humor and helping hand.

"But there are so many stories about his life and a side most didn't know was there," he said. "Dad got all his final wishes met and went in great style, being next to the woman he loved for over 50 years."

One of the people whose life he touched was NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Joe Kapp.

"I've been a migratory football player and had the opportunity to meet and with lots of different people from education to politics to business and he was one of the great men and he sure lived his full live to fullest," commented Kapp from his home in the San Jose area.

"There's not a person he met and didn't touch in a positive way," the former Minnesota Vikings star and class of 1955 Hart grad recalled. "I'll bet you there's going to be 20 million people at the funeral ceremony."

Kapp and Harris have stayed friends for a half-century after the football star left the SCV.

Named after the first president, Harris was born actually on Feb. 25, 1910 and orphaned at an early age. He was raised by an aunt and always thought his birthday was on Feb. 22 — an error humorously discovered a few years back when family found his birth certificate.

Harris had been an all-state high school fullback in Iowa on an unscored-upon and unbeaten state championship team and was a sprinter later in college.

"Dad ran a 10.3 hundred and kidded mom that it must have been her gene pool that goofed things up because Dave (Lee's brother) and I sure weren't what you'd call fast," Lee Harris said.

Harris worked a series of jobs as a mortician's assistant and a road paver while playing football in Iowa at Parsons College, which no longer exists.

"Few knew that Dad grew up in a sometimes brutal environment," Lee said from his Valencia home. "He was always getting into fights and had quite a temper. Then, one day, he knocked out his own quarterback in the middle of a game."

Harris was then taken aside by a professor and mentor who turned out to be a guiding light in the young man's life.

"It just goes to show you that one teacher or minister can make such a difference in a life because after that, Dad changed," Lee said.

Bruce Fortine, a College of the Canyons Trustee and Hart alumus from 1955, said "George was one of my dear friends from 1949 to the time he passed away."

"He was the kind of guy that I wanted to be just like," said Fortine. "He was tough when he had to be and also very compassionate and very motivating. In my case he was very hands-on in terms of motivating me as a student to go on to college and to be the best that I could be."

Harris taught and coached in Colfax, Iowa, for 13 years where he led girls teams to state championships.

At the age of 32, he enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor as a private and quickly rose to the rank of Captain. He received the Bronze and Silver Stars and a Purple Heart, serving under Gen. George S. Patton in armored reconnaissance.

"He met my mom, Dorothy Peterson, on leave in Los Angeles," Lee said, "They fell in love and he told her: ĆIf I make it back alive, don't worry. I'll find you.'"

Harris did.

The couple married in Minneapolis and moved to California in 1947. The couple still lived in the same house they built on Chestnut Street in 1952.

Harris became Hart's first full-time principal in 1948, at a time when there were only 15,000 people in the entire valley and the new campus was the valley's only high school and junior high.

The educator was still playing golf into his 90s.

Harris had entered Henry Mayo Hospital last week, when it was discovered he had a rapid onslaught of lung cancer. On his request, he went home to spend his final time with family.

"Dad passed away on Sunday and we're going to wait until Monday to put together services," Lee noted. "From the flood of calls we've been getting, I don't think there are too many churches that could handle the crowds."

Harris is survived by his wife, Dorothy; sons David and Lee; three granddaughters, Katie, Nancy and Georgia; and two daughters-in-law, Kay and Karen.

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