Tim Harrison can look out over his USC-Union chemistry lab students with a unique perspective.
Around 40 years ago, he was on the opposite side of the desk.
“I love it,” Harrison said of his teaching job. “I tell my students It’s kind of unusual. I graduated here in 1968 and I never thought I would be back teaching a chemistry lab. I still remember my chemistry teacher in that very lab — Dr. Leland Stewart. He was tough, but he was a good teacher.”
Harrison is a member of the second graduating class at USC-Union. Like Harrison, many of those in the class went on to teaching careers and remained in Union County to work and raise their families. He retired from teaching in 2007. In his career, Harrison taught chemistry, science, environmental biology and other courses and served as an administrator. He was principal for West End Middle School and Monarch Elementary School.
After graduating from Union High in 1966, Harrison said he chose to begin college at USC-Union because it was the most affordable option.
“To me, it was common sense to go where you could get the same education you could get at Carolina in Columbia for a whole lot less money,” he said.
There were other considerations as well. Harrison’s father had been battling chronic heart disease since Harrison was a junior in high school and Harrison really didn’t want to leave home.
Harrison said the instructors at USC-Union were interesting and willing to develop a relationship with students.
“When we had functions — parties, dances — they were always very supportive and they were there,” he said.
But there was one instructor in particular that Harrison remembers with deep appreciation — math teacher Margaret Kurtz.
Harrison was taking calculus. His father’s condition worsened and he was hospitalized in Charleston. Harrison got behind in the course. Mrs. Kurtz very kindly recommended he drop calculus, avoid a bad grade and enroll again in the course the next semester.
“That March my father passed away,” Harrison said. “I never will forget Mrs. Kurtz. I looked around at the funeral and there she was. I would say that was unusual for a professor. She meant a whole lot to me. She knew her subject. It wasn’t that she was easy; she was just a good teacher — someone you could talk to. That was one advantage of going to a small school — you can develop more relationships with your professors.”
Harrison earned a bachelor of science degree from USC-Columbia. Teaching hadn’t really been his career plan, but he received a job offer at Sims Jr. High and took it.
He also holds a master’s degree from Winthrop University, where he also earned his teaching certificate. He left education for five years to work in business and construction, then returned to Union County Schools to complete his career.
He and his wife, Hedy, have two children and two grandchildren. Their son, Paul, also took courses at USC-Union before earning an engineering degree from USC-Columbia. He works with Grey Engineering of Greenville. Leigh, their daughter, graduated from USC-Upstate and is a sales representative with Old Dominion Freightlines.
Harrison said he hopes USC-Union can continue to operate.
“I think a number of students would miss out on the great opportunity to get college credits and hopefully a college degree with the lowest expenditure of money possible,” he said. “USC-Union allows a lot of people the chance to work classes into their job schedule.”