A father's quest for answers forges a permanent bond with Kettering

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A permanent monument to the long-standing relationship between the Floyd E. Harris family of Flint and Kettering/GMI was dedicated Aug. 14 on campus. Harris Fields, named for benefactor Edward N. Harris, are part of the Kettering Park outdoor recreation project.

In the early 1950s when Floyd E. Harris walked into then General Motors Institute looking for help with a mathematical problem, he didn't realize he would someday have his name on an endowed scholarship, and his son would become a trustee and donate more than $1 million to the school.

He came to Kettering/GMI around 1950, according to Professor Emeritus Duane McKeachie, looking for a numerical solution of the partial differential equation of diffusion related to the metallurgy of making steel in the foundry at Buick where he was a metallurgist.

"He probably talked to Claude Stout, who was then head of the science and math department," said McKeachie, "who at some point arranged for me to meet with Mr. Harris. I was sent over to his house where he had a calculating machine in the basement. If we had had the high speed computers we have today, we could have been more help to him, he was doing tedious mathematical work," McKeachie said.

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That early encounter was followed by others and became the foundation of the Harris family's long connection to Kettering/GMI.

More than 30 years later Floyd's son, Edward, became a trustee at GMI, and with his brother Robert and sister Barbara, established the school's first endowed scholarship fund in 1983 in honor of their parents and after GMI became independent from the General Motors Corp. The scholarship is named for Floyd E. and his wife Claire P. Harris.

The Harris family's most recent connection to Kettering/GMI is renovation of the university's playing fields on the west side of campus. Edward Harris donated more than $1 million to make improvements to the largest part of Kettering's outdoor recreation complex.

"I indicated to (Kettering President) Dr. John two or three years ago that I wanted to make a significant donation to the school and asked him to come up with an idea," Harris said of the donation. "The fields are the kind of project that it's hard to raise money for, and yet at same time, the long-term effect is significant."

"My philosophy of charitable giving is that it is important to make an impact and be able to see how the money is used," Harris said. Having grown up in the Mott Park neighborhood across Third Avenue from Kettering/GMI, Harris can clearly see the benefits to the school and the area that his donation made possible.

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Harris Fields now boasts a wrought iron and brick fence along Third Avenue, level playing fields for four baseball/softball diamonds (there used to be a 14-foot difference in elevation from home plate to the outfield), new drainage and sprinkler systems and stadium lighting for evening play. Also new are the addition of two lacrosse/soccer pitches, a walking/jogging path around the perimeter and bleacher seating.

"My parents built the second house on Nolen Drive when it was still a dirt road," he said. "I was four years old when we moved in. We probably played on the fields as kids, playing football against other neighborhoods," Harris said.

Now Kettering students can play soccer, lacrosse, softball, or jog and walk on the same fields where 60 years ago kids played neighborhood football at the end of a dirt road.

Written by Dawn Hibbard
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