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Geraldine "Jerry" Harmon

April 30, 2011
  • Geraldine "Jerry" Harmon helped raise her granddaughter, Laura Harmon, who is now a freshman at Syracuse University. This photo was taken in 1999.
Submitted photo

Geraldine "Jerry" Harmon's secretarial skills put her husband, Dr. Hubert M. Harmon Sr., through chiropractic school in Chicago. Those skills also resulted in some interesting work opportunities.

The 1942 Hagerstown High School graduate, whose maiden name was Powell, grew up the middle child of three in Hagerstown's West End. Her daughter, Patti Kite of Hagerstown, said Jerry's father worked for the railroad and that Jerry's parents divorced when she was 13.

With money very tight, Jerry took a job while in high school at the Valencia scooping ice cream so she could buy the things her mother couldn't afford, Patti said.

Jerry went to work at Fairchild right out of high school. She met Hubert and they married in 1944.

Hubert, from Mississippi, had been drafted and was assigned to Fort Ritchie at the time. Patti said her father had "two years of college under his belt," and was not sent overseas.

The Harmons both got jobs at the Pentagon and lived in Washington, D.C., for awhile. Jerry was secretary to the first assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.

"She saw a lot of things," said Patti, who was the oldest of three.

After living in Washington, the couple lived in Chicago for at least five years. It was there that Hubert went to chiropractic school.

With a reference from the Pentagon in hand, Jerry got a secretarial job at Argonne National Laboratory. Patti said her mother worked on the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the first atomic bomb.

"She was very proud of her work for the government," Patti said.

Patti said her mother talked about putting on a lead-lined suit to help clean up a radioactive spill in the lab. When Jerry's first child before Patti was stillborn, the physician wondered if there was a connection, Patti said.

The Harmons returned to Hagerstown in 1951 and Hubert opened his own chiropractic practice. Patti was born in 1955, followed by two sons, Hubert Jr. "Buzz" of Hagerstown and Daniel, who now lives in Alabama.

The family home was on Dual Highway, where Patti and Buzz still live. Jerry stayed home to raise her family and also put her energy into organizing and cooking holiday meals at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.

"She was very high energy and she had a very strong work ethic. Even as a housewife, she had a day for everything," Patti said.

"She was a hard worker no matter what she did. She was always busy. Even when she retired, she was always working in the yard, volunteering at church," said Buzz, who added that his mother was PTA president at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

Jerry's family and friends enjoyed her cooking as well.

"Her family was important. At holidays, we always had lot of people because her food was good and there was always lots of it," Patti said.

"She was a really good cook. A lot of dishes people asked me if I have the recipes. She kept everything in her head," said Buzz, who was fond of her almond-green bean casserole.

In her later years, Jerry attended Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren with her family. Although her health prevented her from being an active volunteer, she supported the church with her prayers, Pastor Rachel Black said.

"She had a lovely smile. Even as I visited her every day in the hospital, she always had a smile. She was always asking how I was doing and said she prayed for me every day," Black said.

Patti said animals were important to her mother and that they always had pets in the house. Jerry started volunteering with Pets on Wheels and would take her "laid-back boxer" to visit local nursing home patients.

Jerry liked to gamble and the family took several vacations to Reno and Las Vegas, Patti said. Buzz said his parents owned thoroughbred race horses and watched their horses race at Charles Town, W.Va., Pimlico and at a Delaware track.

They registered the horses in Jerry's name because Hubert Sr. had patients who didn't approve of gambling and horse racing, Patti said.  

Jerry helped Patti, who was a single parent, raise her daughter, Laura Harmon. Laura, Jerry's only grandchild, is now a freshman at Syracuse University.

"Laura was the love of her life. She loved her granddaughter dearly. She was so proud of her," Black said.

"My mother helped me raise my daughter. She did all the fun things — baking Christmas cookies, coloring Easter eggs. She made sure she did all those things," Patti said.

Laura, who her grandmother called "Ladybug" when she was younger, remembers summers off from school with her grandmother, how Jerry loved to sing "In the Garden," a favorite hymn, and how much she enjoyed the Easter celebration.

"When I was little, she really loved Easter — hiding the eggs and fixing Easter dinner," Laura said.

Her grandmother shared stories from her younger days and always talked of how hard she had to work and pushed Laura to do her best.

"She was really supportive of everything. I remember her being excited when I got into Syracuse," Laura said.

Jerry broke her hip more than five years ago, which slowed her down. Most recently, she was receiving chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer.

Buzz said he took his mother out for lunch every Sunday and had noticed recently that she didn't eat as much and was walking slower, but didn't think much about it. He said she got progressively worse throughout the week and then was hospitalized.

"I told Mom to try to hang on until Laura gets home for Easter break, but she didn't make it," Buzz said.

Patti recalled that her father died April 13, 1983, right before Easter that year. Her mother's death days before Easter feels familiar.

"My brother and I figure April is a bad month," Patti said.

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Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Geraldine M. Harmon, who died April 19 at the age of 86. Her obituary was published in the April 20 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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