Highland News Leader

Know Your Neighbor in Highland: Roland Harris, historian extraordinaire

New museum opens in Highland

The Highland Home located at 1600 Walnut Street hosted a two-day grand opening on the weekend of April 22-23 for the new Highland Home Museum. The Museum Curator Roland Harris and museum visitors talk about their experiences at the new monument to
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The Highland Home located at 1600 Walnut Street hosted a two-day grand opening on the weekend of April 22-23 for the new Highland Home Museum. The Museum Curator Roland Harris and museum visitors talk about their experiences at the new monument to

Local historian Roland Harris, also a correspondent for The News Leader, seems to be a walking-talking encyclopedia on regional events past and present.

He also has another claim to fame which is fairly uncommon in today’s society: 72 years of marriage to the same person, his wife, Lorna. Their age is defied by their articulation, appearance and ability to be active. Once they begin talking, it is soon evident they have a wealth of wisdom to share.

Born July 2, 1925, in Alhambra to Irwin and Maybelle Harris, Roland had one older brother, Udell. Roland and Udell entertained themselves and neighbors by hauling an old Victrola gramophone, with a medal horn, in the bed of their Coaster wagon playing old-time country favorites. The boys had purchased about 100 old records for $1. Neighbors enjoyed their performances so much they would often come out to the sidewalk and pay them a nickel or a dime.

When only 12 years old, Roland was asked by a service station owner to take the noon hour and man the station while the owner took a break to eat. Roland said, “The first day I was excited, but secretly hoped no one came by.” It was not long before he became proficient and remained there four summers. He remembers fuel costing 18 cents per gallon, checking tire pressure, washing the windshield and checking oil levels.

Once a teenager, his buddy suggested they take two young ladies to a dance, Lorna and Imogene. Roland agreed and his friend informed him Roland was to dance with Imogene and he would be shuffling with Lorna. Well, Roland said, “Imogene was too tall and Lorna was just the right size, danced well and was very pretty.” On the ride home, Roland sat with Lorna and the rest is history.

He graduated from Highland High School in 1943 and the young couple’s parents, who were also friends, encouraged Roland and Lorna to wait to marry until Roland served his military stint and completed college. They listened. Roland was inducted into the U.S. Army Oct. 16, 1943. After attaining the rank of sergeant, he was sent to the South Pacific. He went to New Caledonia and then to the Philippine Island Leyte and was in field artillery training to go to Japan shortly before the atomic bombs were dropped.

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Roland spent the next six months in Manila, where he and fellow soldiers were assigned to interviewing American Prisoners of War, who had been in Japanese prison camps and to also get information from them about other servicemen who had died in those camps.

“Each of us, 26 men, were equipped with a new Royal Typewriter and 3x5 inch file cards on which to document their information,” said Roland. “Some required more than one card to chronicle their story.”

His tour of duty ended April 21, 1946; he returned home and graduated from St. Louis School of Mortuary Science June 11, 1947. He and Lorna Ritt married June 17, 1947, at Saint Paul Catholic Church. He served his apprenticeship in Edwardsville and began working for Tibbetts and Co. Furniture Store and Funeral Home. In 1953, he became sole owner and renamed the enterprises Roland Harris Furniture and Funeral Chapel, ultimately selling the enterprises by 1976.

Parent life, accomplishments and married life

During these years they became parents to twin girls, Mary and Ann Marie. Unfortunately, both passed away only days after birth. They later increased their family with four sons — Paul, John, Mark and Luke, all happily married and successful businessmen. They are grandparents of 14 living children and one deceased grandchild, Nolan. They also have 14 great-grandchildren with one on the way.

Roland later became a loan officer for First National Bank until his retirement in 1990. But did his retreat from the work force cause him to sit back and relax on his laurels? Not a chance. In reality, Roland became more involved in his community than ever.

Among his numerous accomplishments and achievements are the restoration of various cemeteries and the leader of Boy Scout troops and overseer for those doing community service. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, playing bridge, gardening, oil and acrylic painting, collecting Highland memorabilia and making new friends.

Regarding married life, to what do the senior couple attribute the longevity of their marriage of 72 years, which nowadays is a rarity?

“When things got rough and a possible disagreement loomed, we remembered to compromise and we never made any big decisions without first consulting the other and then taking the matter to God in prayer,” emphasized Lorna.

Roland, too, acknowledged marriage was not always a bed of roses but said, “whenever we had hardships and trials, we would work it out; we never gave up and we always turned to God for help to guide us in the right direction.”

Harris active in Highland community

They are members of St. Paul Catholic Church and Roland has served as past president of St. Vincent Paul Society, board member and past president of Saint Joseph Cemetery, first president of Saint Paul School Parents and Teacher’s Association, past president of Highland Rotary and served on the board of directors for the Lewis Latzer Memorial Public Library for 37 years and as their treasurer for 18 years.

He is the founder and past president of the Highland Historical Society, a life member of Veterans of Foreign War and the American Legion, a member of Helvetia Sharpshooter Club, Weinheimer Senior Citizens, Harris Cemetery Board, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, past president of Highland Chamber of Commerce, Saint Joseph Advisory Board, founder and treasurer of Dugger Cemetery Association and member of Highland Arts Council. Roland also writes the weekly column for Highland News Leader, “A Thought to Remember.”

Throughout their lengthy lives, the advent of the computer and man’s walking on the moon continue to be the two most amazing historic accomplishments they recall. Their admonition to married couples?

“Don’t let the word divorce ever be in your vocabulary and remember to spend quality time together as a family.”

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