“You will be remembered in our prayers as well as our dreams; because of you we all have dreams.”
No facility in Emporia was big enough to accommodate his Celebration of Life last Friday, so an estimated 800 people gathered in Albert Taylor Hall with one, singular desire – to honor the life and memory of James Harter.
What kept the service from taking place at a church, however, was the sheer number of people who came, said Gonzalo Bruce, dean of International Education.
Harter was vice president of International Education for more than 40 years until he retired last June. He died at age 70 in Emporia on Feb. 20.
Those in attendance for Harter’s Celebration of Life included family, friends and students whose lives Harter impacted at Emporia State and abroad.
“We were so blessed to have Mr. Harter,” said Mohsen Haidar, ESU alumnus. “It (coming to ESU) was a culture shock for us (international students). We needed someone great to help us, and he was there.”
Haidar first met Harter in Lebanon, and, years later, Harter went back. While there, he delivered gifts to Haidar’s family and even spent an evening with them.
“(They) took pictures just like they were family,” Haidar said.
It seems going the extra mile for his students was second nature for Harter. Kamal Tahir, ESU alumnus, remembered his last meeting with Harter about three years ago.
“As I left for the airport, he gave me a little bag of goodies,” Tahir said. “Sunflower seeds, brownies and, my favorite, oatmeal raisin cookies. I was seeing him after 16 years, and he remembered some of my favorite snacks.”
Tahir said his time as an undergraduate began when he was 16-years-old, and it was rough for him at first. When he graduated from ESU, Harter was there to support him when his parents couldn’t be. He said he remembers embracing Harter and hearing him say, “We did it. It took a while, but we finally did it.”
In a letter addressed to Harter from Turki Saad S. AL-Zahrani, ESU’s first Arabic Fullbright Scholar, AL-Zahrani wrote, “You were like a father whom I never had. A mentor whom I always admired. You will be remembered in our prayers as well as our dreams; because of you we all have dreams.”
Amy Sage Webb, co-director of creative writing, who often worked closely with Harter, described him as positive and patient, which “made everyone around him relax and have a better time.”
Webb said most of her fondest memories of Harter occurred in the kitchen, as he was always opening his home to students and making meals for them.
But one memory stands out among the rest – when she and Harter were showing international students Christmas lights around Emporia.
“It was so beautiful watching the young people having a good time,” Webb said. “I thanked him for bringing me. He squeezed my arm and said, ‘Isn’t it something?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Jim. It really, really is.’”
In lieu of gifts, those who attended the Celebration of Life were asked to make donations to the J.F. Harter Scholarship for international students.
“Consummate gardener and sweet friend, he is with us in everything he planted that rises, flowers, and fruits in us,” Webb said. “He is missed.”