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Harris’ legacy of generosity lives on

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Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer 

Barbara Ellen Harris, mother, teacher, donor and wife of Board of Trustees member Ben Harris, died last month from complications following a stroke. She was 90 years old.

Ms. Harris was born Barbara Ellen Burton on June 17, 1928 in Des Moines, Iowa, the third oldest of six siblings.

Ms. Harris graduated from East High School in Des Moines before following her brother to McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, where she got her teaching degree and went on to become an elementary school teacher.

In 1977 she married her husband Ben.

As a married couple, they traveled extensively around the world, visiting almost every continent on the planet. They were happily married for over 40 years.

The couple moved to Long Beach where Ms. Harris went back to school to earn a certificate for interior design from the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Ms. Harris and her husband work ed together to develop their own property development and management companies. The success of their businesses allowed the Harrises to give back to the community.

Ms. Harris, along with her husband, has made many generous donations to several institutions, including the University of La Verne, over the years. 

“She was part of a dynamite duo with Ben Harris. The Harrises have been connected with the University of La Verne for years. They were always about trying to do what they felt was beneficial to students,” said Emmett Terrell, University of La Verne Board of Trustees member.

Major contributions from the Harrises led the University to name and dedicate two notable landmarks. The Harris Art Gallery in the Landis Academic Center, and the Barbara’s Place café in the Campus Center.

Ms. Harris was passionate about education and learning. Along with her career as an elementary school teacher, she was also a former president of the Parent Teacher Association when her children were in school. 

“She saw (education) as a way to achieve the American Dream, through developing knowledge and a skill set that could be applied to a career,” said Harris’ daughter Kim Bowen, a current University of La Verne Board of Trustees member.

Harris created a scholarship program for sociology students. The Barbara Harris Scholarship has provided 60 students with financial resources throughout its existence.

Although she is gone, her legacy and memory will continue here

“She loved this University, and the University loves her, so her legacy will live on for generations,” University President Devorah Lieberman said. “In student scholarships and in Barb’s Place, and many other places.

“Part of her legacy concerns her involvement with the University of La Verne,” Bowen said. “Apart from that, she also leaves behind a legacy of love and laughter through her children and grandchildren.”

She is survived by her husband, Ben; three children, three stepsons, and 10 grandchildren.

Christopher Livingston can be reached at

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