Former students, friends remember Dave Harmon
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Seth Walton remembers coming to Colorado Mountain College in the mid-1990s with an eye toward studying marine biology, until a certain college professor helped steer him on a different course for a while.
“He pretty much fundamentally changed my life, and he really changed the way I viewed the world,” Walton said in remembering former CMC professor Dave Harmon.
Harmon passed away at the age of 75 at his home in Grand Junction last week after suffering a stroke.
“Students really gravitated toward him, because he had important stuff to say,” Walton said. “He taught people to look at the world through a different set of eyes.”
Harmon was a sociology professor at CMC’s Spring Valley campus for more than 20 years. During that time he worked to establish a sister city relationship between Glenwood Springs and the town of Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, in the early 1990s, and led hundreds of students on exchange programs to the rural village.
Walton was among the students he convinced to go on one of the missions.
“I ended up going back 14 times, and even lived there for a year,” said Walton, who also accompanied Harmon to El Salvador and helped him monitor elections in Nicaragua.
“He was always a pretty jolly fellow and got along well with people, especially in Teote,” he said, recalling that the villagers greeted him “don David.”
Walton went on to earn a master’s degree in public affairs, though he plans to return to college in the fall, coming full circle to resume his pursuit of a degree in marine biology.
Lindsay Neil first met Harmon as a Glenwood Springs High School junior in 1993, through her grandmother Emmy Neil, who had been on one of Harmon’s pilgrimages to Teotecacinte, called the Friendship City Exchange.
Lindsay soon joined on one of the trips, where she learned that the children in the village only went to school through sixth grade.
“It was a real impressionable time in my life, and I started working on the notion of building a high school there,” she said. “Dave really inspired me to spearhead the fundraising effort to build the school … and hire the teachers.”
She ended up raising $11,000 for the project.
“He also ended up being my college professor when I took some classes at CMC, and I traveled with him to Washington, D.C., for some lobbying work,” said Neil, who is now government affairs director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign in Denver.
“He created a real level of consciousness in a generation of young people who are still making their mark in communities around the country and the world,” she said. “Our life trajectory would have been a lot different if we hadn’t gotten to know Dave.”
Longtime valley journalist David Frey penned a series of articles about the Friendship City Exchange for the Glenwood Post in the mid-1990s, and befriended Harmon along the way.
“I learned about the sister city relationship, and had an interest in central America and Nicaragua going back to my high school days,” said Frey, who traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students to chronicle their work.
“Dave just had a passion for Teotecacinte unlike anything else I’d ever seen,” said Frey, who wrote an article remembering Harmon’s work in the May 6 Aspen Daily News. “He loved the place and the people. He hardly spoke any Spanish, but he loved communicating with them any way he could.”
During his time at CMC, Harmon also helped students start the campus-based club World Awareness and Action Society, which developed a World Hunger seminar in Glenwood Springs.
“He always said that awareness comes before action,” Frey recalled. Just recently, Harmon was talking about organizing a reunion trip to Nicaragua with some of the former students who had been involved, he said.
Harmon was also an ordained minister, and was previously a CU campus minister, as well as a minister at the Rifle Correctional Center, where he also helped convince CMC to offer classes to inmates to help them continue their education.
After retiring from CMC, Harmon became an adjunct professor at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, and launched an exchange program between Grand Junction and the village of El Espino, El Salvador.
Memorial services are being arranged. Contributions may be made to the Dave Harmon Memorial Scholarship Fund to benefit students in El Salvador. Donations may be sent to the Foundation for Cultural Exchange, 641 N. 17th St., Grand Junction.
Contact John Stroud: 384-9160
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