DeAnna DeForest ’08 didn’t hesitate to make plans to return to Marietta when she received an invitation in the mail to celebrate the opening of the newest residence hall on campus.
“I saw the name of the building and was so excited to be able to come,” she says. Entering her final year at Ashland Theological Seminary, DeForest took the weekend off to travel from her home in Cleveland and attend the ceremony dedicating the complex that sits at the northeast corner of campus — Harrison Hall and the Dr. J. Michael Harding Health and Wellness Center.
On Saturday, the College honored the memories of four men who, individually, left their mark on Marietta. The residence hall recognizes brothers Charles Sumner Harrison 1876, John Langston Harrison 1887 and Walter Clifton Harrison 1891, and houses 364 students, mostly juniors and seniors, in apartment-style accommodations. Charles Sumner Harrison was the first African-American alumnus of the College. The health and wellness center, accessible through a private Seventh Street entrance, memorializes the late Dr. Mike Harding, who was the Director of Counseling Services and a beloved member of campus.
DeForest was pleased the College decided to honor the Harrison family name as well as Dr. Harding’s contributions to campus. In 2005, she was one of the founding members of the Charles Sumner Harrison Organization, an all-inclusive group dedicated to celebrating diversity on campus. “It was a struggle for us back then getting it going, so I think the group and the College have come a long way since that time,” she says.
An hour prior to the dedication ceremony, resident assistants offered personal tours of Harrison Hall and the wellness center. Sydney Maltese ’14 (Massillon, Ohio), who is an RA on the fourth floor, was happy to showcase the new facility to guests. “Each room has new desks, wardrobes and dressers and students can choose to loft their beds for extra space,” Maltese says. “And each floor has a communal kitchen that the students are actually using.”
Dr. Eric Limegrover, Director of the new health and wellness center, says the entrance of the center, which is separate from the residence hall, is thoughtfully placed so student privacy is maintained. Since the center has opened, nearly 200 clients have been served.
“I’d estimate that two-fifths of those clients have sought mental health assistance and the remaining three-fifths have sought medical assistance,” Limegrover says.
The extended hours for the center have also helped to expand access to students.
“It’s a huge increase in hours so it’s infinitely more convenient for students,” Maltese adds.
Raven Tyler ’13 (Randallstown, Md.) lived in Parsons Hall last year and now lives in a single in Harrison. “I love it so far,” Tyler says. “I have my own bathroom and the laundry room is just down the hall. My mom’s seen it and she really loves it, too.”
Tyler attended the ceremony to support her friend, Tiesha Anderson ’14 (Germantown, Md.), who is the president of the Charles Sumner Harrison Organization and who spoke during the ceremony. “I also had a lot of friends who really loved Dr. Harding,” Tyler says.
During the dedication ceremony, President Joseph Bruno recounted the Harrison brothers’ successes in life during an age when African-American men faced a great many challenges. “They exhibited unqualified excellence,” Bruno says. He also noted that though the Harrison family, which included nine children, was educated and had successful careers, there are no known ancestors of the family.
In contrast to the absence of Harrison descendants, there were numerous family members supporting the late Dr. Harding at the ceremony.
Alue Jones was among the large group of family and friends of the late Dr. Harding and his widow, Dr. Brenda Jones, and their daughter Jessica that traveled from North Carolina to witness the dedication of the health and wellness center. Alue Jones is married to Dr. Brenda Jones’ brother.
“Two cars came from Durham to be here,” Alue says. “He was a good family man, cared about people. He was a very nice person. You can see by the number of family who traveled to be here how much he meant to us.”
Dr. Brenda Jones spoke during the dedication, thanking the College for following through with her husband’s vision of ensuring crucial psychological and medical services to students. After a special luncheon following the service, her extended family planned a backyard cookout to spend the remains of the beautiful autumn Saturday.
“He would have really loved the family together like this because he was a family-oriented man,” Dr. Jones says. “I’m on campus quite regularly. My office is just across the street so I can look over now and see his center. This part of his vision has been accomplished.”
At the close of the dedication ceremony, two large plaques were unveiled — one embossed with “Harrison Hall” and the other “Dr. J. Michael Harding Health and Wellness Center.” Harding’s family members took a moment to be photographed with their loved one’s memorial plaque.
“It’s amazing to think that my dad’s dedication to the school has been honored in such a profound way,” Jessica says. “It’s a testament to how much he really cared about the students. He can’t be here for them the way he used to be, so the new facility is his way of being here for them now.”