Harry H. Roddenberry

Harry H. Roddenberry

Harry Roddenberry, 91, says with a baffled smile that most of his life happened by accident, but things always turned out fine. The odd twists started at his birth. His mother named him after his father, Harry Hill Roddenberry only to have her husband admit how much he disliked his middle name.

“So I have an initial H as my middle name…such a problem when I joined the military! They said I simply could not use an initial for my middle name and so they gave me one…eight years flying C54 jets in the U.S. Air Force and I was Harry Hio Roddenberry the whole time. They added ‘io’ which meant ‘initial only’,” Roddenberry said.

Roddenberry was born in Everett, GA. When his father’s railroad job disappeared during the Great Depression they moved to Patterson, GA for a rural mail delivery job he kept for 40 years. There Harry met the cutest girl in fifth grade, Gladys Davis.

way-we-were-Roddenberry_04“Gladys and I were inseparable through school. Marrying her was the best decision I ever made. She was so smart, graduated first in high school and first in her class at Georgia State College for Women, 1945. We married in 1946 at her parents’ 400-acre farm and had 62 wonderful years,” he said. The couple had three children, now 11 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and another on the way.

An unexpected opportunity for Roddenberry occurred while working his way through college as a welder in Savannah. An eye burn sent him to the doctor where he met a Georgia Congressman in the waiting room. The congressman said since he obviously wasn’t the greatest welder, he should join the military and complete his education. He offered to write a letter of recommendation, which he did.

“I passed the physical and entrance requirements, but was only selected as an alternate. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor everything changed. I entered the U.S. Military Academy, West Point and graduated U.S. Army Air Corps, 2nd Lieutenant…the last class to graduate with pilot wings. In 1947 I transferred to the U.S. Air Force.”

Roddenberry served eight years in the U.S. and overseas. Afterwards they moved to a home on Doric Avenue in Jacksonville because it was the closest city to their families in Patterson, GA. He worked for Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company because he met a man who told him he could make a million dollars selling insurance.

way-we-were-Roddenberry_05“Well, that sure wasn’t true. Gladys finished her Master’s degree at UF/Gainesville and taught at Ortega Elementary School for 35 years. I think she did it just in case my career didn’t work out,” he said.

When their third child was born the family needed a larger home, so they bought a lot in Ortega Forest from John Stockton. Roddenberry got such high bids from builders he decided to build it himself.

“I built our home for ten thousand dollars less than the lowest bidder,” he said. That decision led to Roddenberry’s successful career as a builder and developer.

“I formed Harry H. Roddenberry Corporation and over 40 years built 500 homes, plus apartments and auto dealerships. I still operate an apartment building on the Westside,” he said.
Roddenberry’s daughter Kathy Scanlon said her father announced on his 80th birthday that he was only going to work part-time, just from dawn to dusk. Roddenberry said he has no plans to quit work.

Roddenberry was appointed by Mayor Hans Tanzler to the city’s rezoning board after consolidation in October 1968. He served as Northeast Florida Builders Association president, has 36 years perfect attendance at The Rotary Club of West Jacksonville and is a 60-year member of Ortega United Methodist Church.

Roddenberry fished every Wednesday for years on Simpson Creek and Nassau Sound with his friend, Mayor Jake Godbold. They caught trout to cook for their families and nothing tasted better, he said. He also owned a Keystone Heights lake house where his family enjoyed swimming and water sports.

way-we-were-Roddenberry_01Every Friday he climbs into his friend Ed Wilkinson’s red Cadillac and they meet his Ortega Forest backyard neighbor Dr. Jim Cranford and other friends for lunch at Timuquana Country Club. Roddenberry often visits his St. Augustine beach house for weekends and family celebrations.

“Faith, education and hard work were their priorities. They sacrificed for our educations,” Scanlon said. “Most importantly, Dad’s children and grandchildren consider him their very best friend. We all believe he hung the moon.”

Roddenberry visits UNF annually when the Gladys Roddenberry Graduate Fellowships for Teaching Excellence are awarded. The fund was established in 2006 to honor Gladys by a student she taught in her sixth grade class at Ortega Elementary, Gilchrist Berg. Berg is the founder and CEO of Water Street Capital and other investment companies.

 

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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