Saturday, March 12, 2016

Godspeed, Welton Winans Harris II

I got an email this morning from Indianapolis News compadre Skip Hess alerting me that our former colleague Welton "Art" Harris died yesterday in Indianapolis of a heart attack.

Fellow News alumnus David Mannweiler confirmed the report adding that Art drove himself to a hospital and collapsed and could not be resuscitated.

Art came to The News a year or two after my February, 1967 hiring and covered municipal government for the paper until we were merged with The Star in 1995 and he transferred to the combined News and Star Metro North Bureau in Carmel. His desk was next to mine and he was a joy to work with.

After he retired from the newspaper, he was elected to a couple of terms on the Zionsville town board. My contribution to his campaign was the photo above of him in front of the log cabin he shared with his wife Betsy and his black Labrador retriever Jake. I always thought he got elected because people thought they were voting for the dog. Art had a succession of black Labs which he took duck hunting at a property he owned part interest in near Roselawn, Ind. He was also heir to property on Sand Island off the north shore of Wisconsin in Lake Superior. I know the National Park Service wants to own everything on the island and he may be the last owner before it reverts to the all-powerful federal government.

I still have a couple of books Art lent me before I moved to Arkansas eight years ago. I guess I can keep them.

Art's doctor warned him repeatedly that his Lucky Strike habit was going to kill him. Considering his fondness for tobacco and alcohol, my friend got a fair amount of mileage out of his lanky body.

His father came to Indianapolis to manage the bus and trolley line after a brief career as a professional football player with the Green Bay Packers. Art said his dad scored the first touchdown in Lambeau Field when it first opened in 1957.

Art had a hearing problem that stemmed from a high school summer job working inside metal tanks while they were being riveted together. It got progressively worse as he grew older and he finally yielded to pressure from family and friends to get hearing aids.

Like many newspaper folks, he was a history buff with a particular fascination for the last battle of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. I visited the Custer Battlefield on a motorcycle trip on July 9, 1999 and used my cell phone to call Art at the Metro North Bureau to describe the scene. He knew it well, having worked there on an amateur archaeological dig several years earlier.

I got my last email from him - a forwarded piece about Harry Truman - a week ago today.

The world feels a little stranger without Art Harris in it.