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E. HOLMES DISTRICT -- He's counting down the days to the start of his "permanent summer vacation."
After a 31-year career, which has included 18 years in the East Holmes district, vocal music instructor John Harris will direct his last performance during Hiland High School's May 28 graduation ceremony.
Of his impending retirement, Harris said, "It's looking really good. June, July and August used to be my favorite thing about teaching." Annually, during that time he and daughter, Hallie, a Hiland ninth-grader, have enjoyed spending time with family in Connecticut and North Dakota. But, this year, when Hallie returns to Hiland in the fall, her father will remain behind.
"I'm setting up a recording studio in my basement," he said, adding, "I have many thoughts and many songs in my head that I've never recorded."
He said he's looking to give historic value to those songs, including one written for the funeral of the late Perry Reese, the legendary Hiland boys basketball coach who helped to integrate the community. In honoring his friend, who he referred to as a constant "kidder," he wrote a country song, "which I know he would have hated," Harris said with a chuckle.
Of making music, Harris said, "I've always enjoyed writing the poetry. A lot of times I do that before setting it to music."
However, "About 40 percent of the time I think of a good melody and then have to find words to fit, which is infinitely harder," said Harris, who hears music in the most common of noises, including the blowing of a fan.
Harris said he's also eager to spend a little more time on the golf course.
And, while he said his days of shooting sub-par are "long gone," he said, he has a fondness for Mohican Hills Golf Club, where he twice -- in 1987 and 2016 -- hit a hole in one, both times with his four iron and on No. 14.
And, while he eagerly awaits the first day of retirement, he said he's not likely to be absent from the district, where Hallie has expressed interest in finishing out her high school career. He said he also will probably coach girls tennis.
But, in between tennis matches, golf rounds and recording sessions in the basement, Harris said he'll tackle the long-ignored home improvements and repairs and do some traveling.
While he won't miss the politics, he said he'll miss his students. "It's so clich, but it's all about the kids. I love them. The kids are what I'm going to miss. They keep you going."
Of Harris, Hiland Principal Matt Johnson said, "He is student-centered and he shows a passion for working with kids. He has a love of music. The combination of those two things makes him an excellent instructor, who we will greatly miss."
Harris, he joked, "can be absent-minded and not pay attention to details, but pull off a musical or event that no one else is able to do."
Recently, Hiland was the only school in the district to compete at the AA level of the Ohio Music Education Association large group competition. "Not only did they receive the highest rating of superior, all four judges rated him superior," said Johnson, who credits Harris and his passion for music and teaching for building a successful vocal music program.
"We have kids who want to be in choir. We have 350 high school students, and he's always around 80-100 kids in the high school choir," said Johnson, noting interest is so great Harris has to turn away students wanting to be part of the select Varsity Singers.
"Those are the things that distinguish a choir teacher from an accomplished choir teacher," said Johnson.
Gary Schrock became acquainted with Harris as the father of three students -- Ashley, Amber and Lance -- who were in choir and "every single musical that was put on during their years of high school."
"He just did a fabulous job," said Schrock, who was always amazed that after graduating one amazing group of seniors, Harris returned with another group that was just as good. "Somehow John has the ability to just get the absolute best out of kids.
"He believes in the kids even when they don't believe in themselves," said Schrock, who, following his youngest's graduation in 2009, has continued to maintain a friendship with Harris.
"He's obviously a very talented individual. He's a singer in his own right, but that doesn't prevent him from seeing the talent in others. He's a fabulous teacher, coach, all-around good guy. It might sound kind of mushy, but it's true.
"He's just a fun dude to hang around. He knows how to tell a good joke and a good story, and he's a fabulously devoted father to his daughter, Hallie," said Schrock, adding, "John is absolutely just devoted to the kids. I don't think his decision to retire was taken lightly."
Colleagues for 10 years at Waynedale, Ron Dobson said Harris also has been a best friend to him for nearly three decades and is one of three people, exclusive of family, who has had the greatest influence on his life.
"As a teacher, as well as a friend, he has a way of energizing knowledge and humanizing truth; therefore, I like to use him as a sounding board for my life's decisions," said Dobson, noting Harris has "a sense of humor that keeps life from being too serious.
"I can't say enough good things about John Harris and I'm glad that he is being highlighted as an important person in the news," said Dobson, noting of Harris' retirement, "I guarantee you, he will be impossible to replace. He has taken the music program at Hiland and transformed it into one of, if not the, best music programs in the whole state."
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.