The Friends of Eaton County Parks and the Eaton County Democratic Party are honoring the late Roger Harris as an “advocate for the people and the parks,” with the placement of two benches in his memory at Crandell Lake Park. Harris was first elected as an Eaton County Commissioner in 2008, lost his bid for re-election in 2010, but was re-elected to the commission in 2012. He passed away in 2015.
Harris represented District 15, which includes the city of Eaton Rapids and part of Hamlin and Eaton Rapids Townships. He was well known and well-loved. Harris, although he lived in the city of Eaton Rapids, was at heart a farmer. He owned an 80-acre Centennial Farm on Gildart Road, which is where he grew up. He worked as a printer, retiring from that profession in 2001. He was also an excellent tractor mechanic.
“Anything that went around and around he could fix,” said Barbara Harris, his wife. “And he really enjoyed being on the commission,” she added.
As a candidate for the Eaton County Commission, Harris went door to door to every house in town, Barbara said, talking to each resident. She was hesitant to encourage him in his first campaign, him being a democrat in republican Eaton Rapids. A voter approached her later and told her that despite being republican he still voted for Roger, because “he cares about us.”
“And he did!” she acknowledged. “He loved going to the coffee shop to talk to people. He really enjoyed that.”
Barbara and Roger Harris met in 1965 when they were just out of high school. “He wanted to marry me as soon as we met,” she laughed. It was during the Vietnam War, however, and he knew he was going to be drafted. He enlisted in the Navy for two years to avoid being drafted into the Army. They got married before he left. Roger wrote to his wife every day.
While at sea, Harris was severely burned by steam while fixing a pipe on his ship. The letters to his wife stopped, and Barbara was not informed that anything had happened. It was several weeks before she received a typewritten letter from Roger with the news; he typed it with only one finger due to his injuries.
Harris was instrumental in getting the Crandell Lake Project going. “If it wasn’t for Roger being such a strong advocate for Crandell Lake, we might not have it today,” said Jeremy Whittum, chair of the Eaton County Board of Commissioners and personal friend of Harris.
Harris was very active in volunteering in community events and projects. He served on Eaton County Parks and Recreation, Eaton Rapids DDA, Eaton Rapids Arts Council, Tri-County Office on Aging, Pheasants Forever, and more. In 2015, when Harris died, the Eaton County Democratic Party created an annual “Roger Harris Volunteer Award” in recognition of his community service. The honor is awarded at their annual dinner.
“Despite being a staunch democrat, Harris didn’t care about partisanship,” said Whittum, a republican. “Democrat or republican, it didn’t matter. He would just show up if he knew you needed help.”
“He was just a guy that was always there,” Whittum added.
What started out as plans for one bench, sponsored by the Friends of Eaton County Parks, expanded when the Eaton County Democratic Party found out about it and wanted to sponsor their own, in addition to contributing to the first one.
“My daughters and I are really delighted to see these benches for Roger,” said Barbara. “He would have been very pleased that they thought of him and his legacy. He was a wonderful husband and father.”
There will be a dedication ceremony at the park for the benches on June 23, at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited.