Alumni Spotlight: Ben Harrison

In the fall of 1966, the Forest Club, one of the oldest and longest-running clubs at the University of Washington, realized it was nearly broke and didn’t have enough funds for some of its activities, including Garb Day. Ben Harrison, who was working on the final quarter of his forest management degree, came up with an idea to raise some money for the group and spread a little holiday cheer on campus: a Christmas tree sale.

The Seattle Times story from December 8, 1966.

The Forest Club had about a dozen members at the time, and Harrison managed to get permission from the Forest Service for them to cut some Pacific silver firs from a plantation in the Hansen Creek area near Snoqualmie Pass. They succeeded in selling all the trees—including unloading a few extras to local banks—and rescuing the group’s finances. They also brought back one especially large fir to place on Red Square right in front of the old Administration Building (now Gerberding Hall).

President William Gerberding came out to light the 30-foot tree, which freshman and sophomores had decorated, and the Husky Band played to a lively crowd of students. The Seattle Times even covered the occasion in an article on December 8, 1966, “Tree Caps Collegiate Career,” referring to Harrison as a “spirited forestry student.”

Harrison turned 90 earlier this fall and now lives in Issaquah with his wife Dorie. He was a slightly older student while at UW, where he met Dorie, and his career covered multiple chapters before and after his time at school. Harrison twice served in the Navy, first enrolling at age 16 for submarine service during World War II (his older brother signed his papers). He later served as an electrician and medic during the Korean War, and after graduating from college he went to work as a forester for Weyerhaeuser—and then eventually as a contract forester with private landowners. Along the way, he staffed a Society of American Foresters booth at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, traveled to every continent except Antarctica, and received the Honored Alumnus Award from our school in 1992.

It’s impossible to pick one legacy from such a life and career, but one of his most enduring contributions to our school was organizing that first tree sale. Though he never imagined it at the time, he kicked off a tradition that has now continued for 49 years, drawing together students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members across Seattle.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the sale, and maybe we can convince Harrison to head out with the Forest Club when they harvest the next batch of trees!

Photo of Ben and Dorie Harrison © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.

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