The Way We Were: William J. Harp, Jr. & Barbara Parks Harp

The Way We Were: William J. Harp, Jr. & Barbara Parks Harp
Barbara, Rebekah and Jim Harp

According to William J. Harp of Avondale, he was handed “a life that is unbelievable.” 

Growing up in South Georgia in the 1930s, Harp’s family had a limited income. He worked as a soda jerk at the Rexall Drug Store in Brunswick owned by James Andrews, town mayor and the wealthiest man around. When his parents, William J. Harp, Sr. and Sarah Parks Harp, moved to Jacksonville, they allowed Harp to stay with the Andrews couple in Brunswick. 

Barbara and Jim Harp
Barbara and Jim Harp

“I moved into their house – a mansion, really – they had seven bathrooms! My room at their house was larger than any house my parents and I had ever lived in. I was so fortunate to have Maude and James Andrews in my life. Their son died when he was 24 and they just took me in like I was their own. No one in my family had gone to college but they sent me to the University of Georgia. They were wonderful and thought I could do no wrong,” recalled Harp. 

He chuckled as he related this story. “While I was at college one of my frat brothers from Kappa Phi was in Brunswick and saw Mr. Andrews, who asked how I was doing. The guy said, ‘He was sober the last time I saw him.’ Instead of getting upset, Mr. Andrews said the boy would do well to tend to his own business! 

“Mrs. Andrews gave me a blank check to keep with me in case I needed something,” he continued. “While living with them we went to Sea Island, the Cloisters. They did so much for me; I was so fortunate to have them in my life.”

Jim Harp, middle, assists in compressing aspirin tablets at the University of Georgia pharmacy school in 1956.
Jim Harp, middle, assists in compressing aspirin tablets at the University of Georgia pharmacy school in 1956.

In 1950 Harp joined the Navy and his travels began. First to San Diego for training, then to Memphis to work at the hospital as a medical technician, then off to Bethesda, Maryland for physical therapy training after which he served at the Naval Hospital in Key West as a physical therapist. Harp also served as a hospital corpsman 2nd class, then transferred to TAD – Temporary Additional Duty – as a medical technician with the 5th Marine Regiment near the 38th parallel in Korea for 14 months. 

“After the Navy, I went back and finished pharmacy school in 1956, then moved to Jacksonville where my parents lived, and went to work for Ed Pierce at Pierce’s Prescriptions downtown across from May-Cohens by Hemming Plaza. I loved it and worked there for 38 years. It was sold in 1994. I retired in 2001, then taught math at FCCJ Pharmacy Tech School until they moved that program, then I started substitute teaching, which I still do, in Clay and Duval Counties.”

Jim Harp during the time he served as youth director for Avondale United Methodist Church
Jim Harp during the time he served as youth director for Avondale United Methodist Church

Harp’s good fortune has continued throughout his life with one of the most significant events occurring on a bus while he was still in college. When returning to pharmacy school from a trip to Jacksonville around 1956, Harp was studying for his pharmacy exam using the notes of a fellow classmate, Bill, whose name was written across the top of the notepad. Barbara Jean Parks was sitting behind him. She also was returning to Athens, where she worked for the University of Georgia Press, from a visit with a girlfriend in Jacksonville.  

“I was a proofreader, if you can imagine that!” she joked. On that fateful bus ride, she leaned over, glanced at Harp’s notepad and said, “Hi, Bill.” Harp (who goes by his middle name James) turned around and said, “My name is Jim.” 

Jim and Barbara’s subsequent courtship got off to a few false starts. Barbara explained that the couple had broken up, then she received a letter “out of the blue” from Harp in Jacksonville and their courtship resumed. 

On Sept. 2, 1957 they were married by a justice of the peace in Abbeville, South Carolina. Each received a check for $1,000 from the Andrews. “That was a lot of money then. We went to Key West for our honeymoon,” said Harp. 

Jim Harp with children James, Rebekah and Mark
Jim Harp with children James, Rebekah and Mark

While Harp worked at Pierce Pharmacy, Barbara had a job at Utsey’s Shoes in Avondale, where Yours Truly Antiques is currently located, then worked at Stillwell School with special education kids for 15 years. She was voted Paraprofessional of the Year in 2006 for Duval County Public Schools Council for Exceptional Children.  

“Those were the happiest years for her,” said Harp. “She still talks about it like it was yesterday. She worked there, then volunteered with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for four years after that.” 

Longtime members of Avondale United Methodist Church, Harp relates a humorous story of Ed Pierce encouraging him to go to church. “I told him I went to Avondale Baptist occasionally and he asked me who the minister was. I just died on the spot. My idea of church was to go twice a year, put $5 in the plate and think I was doing good.” 

Soon thereafter, the couple joined Avondale UMC where they made up for the lack, and are still members after 60 years. Barbara volunteered for many years in the children’s department; Harp sang in the choir for 32 years, or helped fill up the back row, as he said. 

During the 1970s and 1980s Harp earned the nicknamed “Pap” serving as youth director of the Avondale UMC “Anchovies” – rivals of Ortega United Methodist Church’s “Oysters.” He traveled with the youth to the Grand Canyon, the Bahamas and Hope Town on mission trips. He was in Faithful Friends and president of the “old people’s class,” as he called it. The Harp family was also honored as Family of the Year and asked to sing a family song at the event. They selected “Ivory Palaces,” but Harp’s musically-gifted son, Jimmy, offended him by not wanting him to sing. That’s when Harp realized that filling up the back row of the choir wasn’t just a joke by his choir director. 

Not one to toot her own horn, Barbara is adamantly photo shy. When asked where she was in a photo of Jim and the kids, she remarked, “I was there. I took the picture!” She maintains that while in the past her husband has been globe-trotting with youth groups and taking trips with their grown children, she “had too many other things I had to do,” mainly helping care for daughter Rebekah’s numerous dogs, and her own beloved Captain Jack. Over the years, the number of framed dog photos and urns with ashes of dogs they have loved on display has increased. 

Jim and Barbara also have a photo of the revered Mr. Andrews in a place of honor in their stairwell. “Mr. Andrews gave me 50 shares of Rexall stock and after he died Mrs. Andrews told me to pick anything from the house that I wanted, so I took the amethyst jardinières,” said Harp. 

Harp acknowledged the sacrifice his parents made for his well-being by allowing him to live away from them, but said they remained close, and his mother stayed with them for 10 years after his father died. About her own parents, Barbara said, “Mamma and Daddy taught me well. We were taught to be honest – to push through hard times, don’t just lie down and wallow.” 

Jim and Barbara incorporated their parents’ advice into their daily lives and celebrate the joys of every day. Jim said his favorite Scripture is Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” 

The Harps credit their parents with influencing them to what Rebekah described as a “Life of Substance” in a photo book she made for her father.

The Harps both seem amazed about the longevity of their marriage. Jim commented in an astonished tone, “Sixty-two years! Our marriage has lasted all these years! We are so different. I like Victorian; she’s more modern. I like to travel; she doesn’t. She is a homebody; she doesn’t like boats since she can’t swim, nor airplanes,” he said.

Barbara joked that the “glue sometimes comes apart,” but credits their children with being the “glue” that has held their marriage together. 

Their son, James, is the artistic director of the Maryland opera and professor at Johns Hopkins. Mark, a consultant for Accentua, lives in Marietta, Georgia. Rebekah is an award-winning special education four-time Teacher of the Year in Duval and Clay Counties, recipient of the Jake and Scout Award from the Clay Humane Society, dog lover and Flyball training champ. The Harps also have two grandsons, Bradley at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Brian at Georgia Southern, both scholars and athletes.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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