In Memory

Bill Harris (Harris) - Class Of 1957

Former state senator, Lincoln mayor Bill Harris dies at 71

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

(Photo)
Bill Harris
LINCOLN, Nebraska -- Bill Harris, the second son of an influential and well-known McCook, Nebraska, family and a former Nebraska state senator and Lincoln, Nebraska, mayor, died Tuesday morning in Lincoln. Harris was 71 years old.

Services are pending with Roper and Sons Mortuary, Lincoln. Harris is survived by his wife, Mary Sue; his mother, Eleanor Harris of Opelika, Alabama; two children and three grandchildren; and four brothers., J.T. Jr., Bob, Bert and Jim.

Bill Harris, the son of John Thomas Sr. and Eleanor Harris, grew up in McCook, graduating from McCook Senior High in 1957. He married Mary Sue Hormel, also of McCook and a '59 MHS graduate.

Bill Harris served in the Nebraska National Guard from 1962-68, earning the rank of staff sergeant. He taught social studies for Lincoln Public Schools from 1969-74.

The Nebraska VFW named him "Citizen of the Year" in 1991.

Harris was appointed state senator for Lincoln's 27th District by Gov. Bob Kerrey in 1982. He was elected to the seat in 1984, but resigned when he defeated Lincoln Mayor Roland Luedtke in the spring of 1987.

As mayor of Lincoln from 1987-1991, Harris was responsible for spearheading construction projects and redevelopment, including University Square, Lincoln Station, Technology Park and the Highlands annexation. During Harris' tenure, voters approved a bond issue to renovate Pershing Auditorium, improve the Children's Zoo and develop the city's hiker-biker trail system.

Harris is credited for the rejuvenation of a former warehouse district into the thriving historic Haymarket business district. Bill Harris' brother, Bert, told the Lincoln Journal Star Tuesday that the Haymarket was just emerging when Bill Harris became mayor, and he actively pursued its growth and development.

Bill Harris started street festivals and formed a city Economic Development Department.

In his nomination of Bill Harris for inclusion on McCook Senior High's "Wall of Fame," fellow graduate Gene Budig wrote that Harris developed Lincoln's Children, Youth and Families Policy Initiative and created the Minority and Women's Small Business Assistance Center, the Small Business Loan Program, the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and the Sports Industry Commission. Budig wrote, in 2008, that under Harris' leadership, Lincoln was cited as one of America's Most Livable Cities in 1989 and was a finalist for the All-American City award in 1991.

Harris initiated, developed and implemented a drug abuse prevention program, led environmental initiatives and promoted environmental awareness, promoted recycling and built Nebraska's first state-of-the-art landfill.

Bob Hanna of Lincoln, Harris' longtime friend, told Lincoln Journal Start reporter Nancy Hicks that Harris continued to take interest in politics, "and just about everything else." Hanna said, "He didn't miss a thing."

In 2008, Harris served as treasurer of the Nebraska Association of Former State Legislators, acting as president of the organization in 2004 and 2005. He also served 12 years on the Nebraska Economic Development Commission, appointed by Gov. Ben Nelson.

Hicks reports that Harris was helping recently to raise money to renovate the Sigma Mu fraternity.

The John Thomas "John T." Harris Sr. family name is associated in McCook with the DeGroff's Department Store, a cornerstone of McCook's downtown business district from 1892 until 1989; Gro-Mo Chemical and Harris Chemical Co., the predecessors of today's Van Diest Chemical Co.; Harris Construction Co., which built homes in McCook's Sunset Addition; and the nation-wide Lots to Love Inc. retail stores.

John T. Harris pioneered the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Southwest Nebraska. The Harris family still owns and operates farming and ranching operations near McCook.