Athletic Hall of Honor
2012 Inductees: Richard Harben and Laurence Becker
Richard L. Harben
Dick Harben’s résumé might lead one to believe that he has done everything at Schreiner except be a student. After all, he coached, taught and served in Schreiner’s administration over a 43-year career here. One would be wrong, though. For a former basketball coach, he sure knows how to cover all the bases.
“Well, I have taken a few classes for credit here,” Harben said. “I took a Texas government class I needed to get my teacher’s certification, and I took classes in calculus, analytical geometry and college algebra. When I first came here, I taught algebra and I wanted to stay sharp.”
Harben was born and raised in Benton, Ill., and attended Benton Consolidated High School, where he lettered in basketball, cross country and track and held a record in cross country. In 1954, just as he was about to graduate, the high school basketball coach was taking a friend of his to Erskine College, in Due West, S.C., to try out for the team there. His friend asked Harben to come with him, they both tried out and the Erskine coach offered both of them room, board, tuition and books if they would play for Erskine.
“My friend agreed immediately,” Harben said. “And when I said, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ he said, ‘Come on, Dick. I don’t want to be here alone.’ So I went to Erskine, even though I hadn’t any thought before then about going to college. I was planning to be a mechanic.”
Harben came to Schreiner right after his graduation from Erskine College in 1958—“with a pregnant wife (Jane), a ’51 Kaiser, hot and no air conditioning.” Harben was the dorm supervisor for Hoon Hall, which was then a freshman dormitory, and the Harbens moved into a first-floor apartment.
“Those guys would jump from the second floor to the landing and then run the rest of the way,” Harben recalled. “I was always out there hollering at them not to run in the dorm. It was an interesting experience, supervising those boys.”
Harben remembers disciplining some of the boys by putting them to work shoveling out the stables, but said the punishment they really didn’t like was pulling milkweed in Schreiner’s playing fields: “It was too sticky.”
During his career at Schreiner, Harben taught at Schreiner Institute, College and University, was a basketball coach, dean of students and vice president of student affairs. He also was the faculty sponsor for the All-Girl Rodeo, which was held at the Kerrville Ag Barn.
“I didn’t know anything about rodeo, but they had to have a sponsor,” Harben said. “I used to park cars on the night of the actual rodeo.”
And a lifeguard, too?
“Dean Weir announced that the coaching staff had to be lifeguards during the summer,” Harben remembered. “I could swim but not that well. I mentioned that to one of the other coaches and he told me ‘just throw them the ring.’ You didn’t say no to Dean Weir. Well, he didn’t exactly ask, either.”
Weir had promised Harben that he and his family would be moved into A.C. Schreiner as soon as renovations, including the first-floor dining hall, were complete. Harben’s second year at Schreiner rolled around with the renovations still under way.
“Dean Weir talked to me and said, ‘Since we can’t move you right now, I would be happy to renew your contract or help you find another job.’”
Harben stayed and moved into A.C. Schreiner as soon as the work there was finished. All three Harben children were born in Kerrville and raised on the Schreiner campus. Their daughter Ann married a Schreiner student, Gary Carr, who was catcher on Schreiner’s first baseball team.
Harben’s high school running career turned into a lifelong love of running. At 44, he ran his first (and last) marathon—having run from Fredericksburg High School to Tivy High School as part of his training—in under four hours.
“It was just under,” Harben said, “but it was under.”
Since retiring from Schreiner, he exercises weekly in the Mountaineer Center and does woodwork.
“I do woodwork for my kids and for my own pleasure,” Harben said. “I made a magic wand for my granddaughter, with a magnet on the tip so she could tap on things and pick them up. She thought it was the greatest thing ever, until she sat on it and broke it in half.
“I like retirement,” he added. “You can do whatever you want, when you want to. I might be slow, but I get there.”
Laurence Becker lives in Austin in the house he grew up in. He met his future wife in his back yard at a Sunday evening gathering of college students from University Presbyterian Church. Not a lot has changed over the years—except the address.
“I was born in Austin on 39½ Street and we moved way up north to 42½ Street,” he said. “45th Street was the north edge of town in those days. Today, 42½ Street is Park Boulevard, but my wife and I still live in the same house.”
From that you might think that Becker is something of a stay-at-home. Far from it.
Becker came to Schreiner Institute in 1958, after attending the University of Texas, where he played on UT’s 1957 tennis team—a team that set a school record for most wins and was ranked #3 nationally. Becker has been ranked in the top three players in Texas more than once. Clearly, he was a great choice to coach SI’s tennis team from 1958-1962, especially when you consider that his Schreiner team won three national titles in 1962: the singles, doubles and team championships. Becker also taught Bible and English at Schreiner, and was a dormitory supervisor.
He had had another offer of a job, at Sheldon Jackson Junior College located on the Baranof Island in Alaska. But as Becker noted, “the tennis season in Alaska is very short.” He came to Schreiner.
“Dr. Edington hired me to teach the entire Bible in one semester to high school students who needed it to graduate,” Becker said. “My preparation to take on such an assignment consisted of having been a lifelong Presbyterian and having studied for two years at the Christian Faith and Life Community, an ecumenical lay theological study center near The University of Texas-Austin.”
All the teaching and coaching didn’t keep him pinned down in Kerrville.
“I was teaching the courses, supervising a two-story dorm with 72 boys, coaching high school and college tennis and I was a member of the Naval Reserve in San Antonio,” Becker said.
“On one of my days off, I would drive to San Antonio, play tennis, take care of my Reserve duties and visit Rosanne.”
Rosanne would be that young woman at the Presbyterian youth meeting in his backyard. They have been married for 52 years now and have three children.
Becker is apparently adept at doing more than one job and doing them all well. After leaving Schreiner, he taught at St. Stephen’s High School in Austin. After 11 years at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, he and his family moved to rural Maine to work with Bill Coperthwaite and the Yurt Foundation for four years.
“Rosanne said it felt like four winters because it was so cold for most of the year,” Becker said.
The Yurt Foundation (www.yurtinfo.org) is an educational nonprofit that gathers folk knowledge from cultures all over the world, using it to design simpler ways of living in the modern world. The first yurt in Texas was built by students and their parents in 1972 on the grounds of St. Stephen’s.
While he was at St. Stephen’s, Becker also founded the Texas Students’ Film Festival, which he directed for six years. In 1983 he produced the award-winning documentary “Eyes Wide Open,” about the autistic artist Richard Wawro, who until Becker’s film had been considered retarded with an IQ of 30. Dustin Hoffman used this film in preparing for the movie “Rain Man.”
Becker is now an international expert on artistic autistic savants like Wawro, and organizes art exhibitions and presentations around the country.
Juggling various projects at once opens Becker’s life to the process of synchronicity, to which he attributes all the many roads his life’s journey has taken.
“Synchronicity has been a notable part of my life,” he said.
Tennis also has been a notable part of his life, in both his 65 years as a player and in a 50-year coaching career that started at Schreiner.
“My four years in the trenches at Schreiner Institute, with fellow faculty members and so many memorable students, certainly taught me more that I could have ever learned in any classroom, in any university, anywhere,” Becker said.