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HARRIS, JOHN WILLIAM

HARRIS, JOHN WILLIAM (1876–1956). John William Harris, minister and college founder, son of William David and Anne Evelyn (von Bucknow) Harris, was born on January 12, 1876, in Dripping Springs, Texas. He grew up on his family's ranch near Dilley and received his early education in area schools. In 1892 his family moved to Cotulla. As a teenager he worked as a cowboy and sheepherder. In 1894 he had an experience that resulted in his decision to devote his life to the Presbyterian Church. He attended Park Academy and Park College in Parkville, Missouri, from 1895 to 1902 and received his B.A. degree. He attended Princeton Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1902 to 1905. Harris was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1905, the year he married Eunice Evelyn White; they eventually had five children.

In 1905 he was assigned a pastorate in Pond Creek, Oklahoma. The next year he was reassigned to an evangelical mission in San German, Puerto Rico. In March 1912, with one student, he founded Polytechnic Institute, which was modeled in part on the work-study program of Park College. The institute, originally housed in a farmhouse, was coeducational, ecumenical, and racially integrated, the only school of its kind in Puerto Rico. In 1916 Polytechnic graduated its first high school class. In 1919 the school was authorized to grant university-level degrees, and in 1927 the first college class, consisting of twenty-seven students, graduated. By 1927 Polytechnic had an enrollment of 400 and a 200-acre campus with ten permanent buildings. Polytechnic Institute was incorporated in 1920. It was the first coeducational school outside of the continental United States to be accredited by the Middle States Association of American Colleges and Secondary Schools, the Association of American Colleges, and the National Commission on Christian Higher Education. Harris served as president of the institute until his retirement in 1937, and he remained a member of the board of trustees until his death.

On retirement he and his wife returned to their ranch, El Guajalote, in Dilley, Texas. Harris served as county committeeman to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. He was president of the National Farm Loan Administration of Pearsall from 1940 to 1944. From 1944 to 1954 he was director of the Winter Garden National Farm Loan Association, and he directed the Survey of Southwest Texas for the Austin Presbytery in 1945. Harris was a life member of the Lions Club and the San German Masonic Lodge. He received two honorary LL.D. degrees, one from Park College in 1920 and the other from the University of Puerto Rico in 1937. He also received an honorary D.D. degree from Polytechnic in 1948. Harris died in Texas on June 14, 1956, as the result of an automobile accident. He was buried on the grounds of Polytechnic Institute in San German, Puerto Rico. In 1977 the Inter American University Press published his memoirs under the title Riding and Roping.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

C. Virginia Matters, ed., Riding and Roping: The Memoirs of J. Will Harris (San Juan, Puerto Rico: Inter American University Press, 1977).

C. Virginia Matters

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

C. Virginia Matters, "HARRIS, JOHN WILLIAM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhadk), accessed July 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.