This story first appeared in the Winter edition of the Harker Quarterly.
The official opening of the John Near Resource Center took place in early November, attended by a score or more family, students, staff, alumni and friends.
The center, located in Shah Hall, adjacent to Near’s former classroom, reflects the late teacher’s love of American history. Near taught at Harker’s middle and upper schools for 31 years prior to his passing in 2009. His legacy includes many hundreds of students left with a love of learning and history and, now, the John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund.
The Near endowment, the first of its kind at Harker, funds robust online research databases for students and provides grants to students or teachers each year for research on history projects of their choice. The first three recipients of John Near Scholar Grants have already received their funding and are listed in a display alongside photos of Near and a plaque commemorating both his contribution to Harker and his philosophy for the fund’s use.
As only interest from the endowment will be spent, and none has yet accumulated, the center, the first grant recipients and initial databases were funded by special contributions from the Class of 2010 (with 100 percent participation!), a John Near Fun Run, a benefit poker game and special contributions from alumni.
Those attending the reception included history department faculty members, administrators, advancement office staff, longtime employees, John’s wife, Pam Dickinson, director of Harker’s office of communication, and daughter Casey Near ’06. Key members of the John Near Resource Center planning committee were also present, including Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs; Donna Gilbert, history department chair; Susan Smith, head librarian; Mike Bassoni, facility manager; and Sarah Covey ’91, a former student of Near’s and interior designer who donated her expertise to the project. All were instrumental in making the room come to life.
Once the gathering was underway, Dickinson acknowledged John’s parents, Jim and Pat Near, who established the endowment fund in their son’s honor – and based on John’s own wishes – just months before he passed away. She also recognized the special role so many played in achieving the final outcome. “We all agreed this space needed to be inspirational, warm and comfortable,” she said. “Each person involved just intuitively knew the right thing to do and did it. It’s an amazing space, and John would have loved both the space and the process.”
The room features media and periodical libraries that will each expand over time, a flat screen and DVD/VHS player, a collaborative work table, comfortable sofa seating and bookcases of Near’s books from his personal library. Poster- sized, framed black and white photos decorate the walls – from singer Billie Holiday to President John F. Kennedy – each representing iconic facets of American history and culture that had resonated with Near.
Gilbert noted that the room has already been used by both students and teachers in various ways and has become a bit of a sanctuary for teachers to enjoy a few moments away from the bustle of the hallways. Each year the room will also host a reception for the John Near grant scholars when they receive their awards, but from day to day, Near’s scholarly soul, represented by the photos and books he loved, fills the room, providing a lasting memory of one of Harker’s finest teachers.