In recent years, the south end of Union’s Don Love Building has become a vibrant learning hub for some of Union’s popular programs dedicated to health care and service. This recently-renovated home for the Physician Assistant Program, International Rescue and Relief Program and Occupational Therapy Assistant Program has now been named the Harris Center in honor of Edna Maier Harris, whose estate gift made this learning space possible.
The Harris Center comprises the upper floor of the Don Love Building south of the library and was renovated into learning spaces in 2013 after AdventSource—the former occupants—moved to a new facility on the southeast corner of campus.
“We are so thankful for the tremendous generosity Edna Harris has shown toward Union,” said Dr. Vinita Sauder, Union College president. “These funds made a direct and lasting impact on many Union College students through the creation of the Harris Center and many other campus projects.”
Edna Maier Harris’ grandparents came to the United States from what is now Ukraine and settled in South Dakota in 1885. The family worked as farmers and eventually grew the family farm to 880 acres in Edmunds and Faulk Counties in South Dakota. Edna was born and raised on the family farm before coming to Union College in the mid-1940s. When she died April 22, 2014, five days before her 88th birthday, Edna left all 880 acres of the farmland to Union College—a gift ultimately worth more than $3 million.
“She did not graduate from Union, but always wished she had,” said her son, Lance Harris. “Her experiences at Union College shaped her life, and she wanted to help others have the same experiences.”
Harris was a lifelong supporter of Union College, and her final estate gift provided the funding for the Harris Center renovations, the launch of the OTA Program, and other campus projects including the Krueger Center for Science and Mathematics in 2014 and the campus entrance at 48th Street and Prescott Avenue in 2017.
She met her husband, Jack Harris ’50, at Plainview Academy, formerly located in Redfield, S.D. Four days after they started dating Jack was drafted into the U.S. Army at the peak of World War II. While Jack served in the European theater Edna enrolled at Union and studied education. Jack came home the fall of 1945 and they were married on December 23, 1945.
Jack joined Edna at Union College and studied theology. In 1949 they started their family and, after Jack graduated, he received a pastoral call to Oklahoma which started Edna’s career of moving. The Harris family lived in 35 different homes all over the world. They traveled to 50 countries and visited every continent except Antarctica.
“They lived an adventurous life and saw many wondrous things,” Lance explained. “They hiked the mountains in Rwanda to see the ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ long before it was fashionable.”
Now her love for adventure will live on in the high-tech, hands-on learning spaces that prepare students for careers in health care, emergency response and global development. “Nearly a quarter of our student body study in programs housed in the Harris Center,” said Sauder. “They are training for careers that directly serve people and make the world a better place. I can’t think of a more fitting legacy for Edna Harris.”
“She wanted to give to an educational institution that was aligned with her beliefs,” said Lance. “She certainly saw that in Union College.”