Marathon reading marks marathon career

As an undergraduate at Hastings College in Nebraska, Lee Harrod, professor of English, first majored in physics and then in music.

“I played tuba in the concert band and I played sousaphone in the marching band,” Harrod said.

He said it was not until he had an “enthusiastic teacher” during his sophomore year in college and he read the novels of Thomas Wolfe that he discovered his love for English.

Now the College is saying goodbye to a professor who has sparked an interest in literature in hundreds of students and is retiring at the end of this semester.

“Dr. Harrod was definitely a fun, lively and inspiring member of the English department who touched the lives of countless students not only with his love of literature, but with his love of life as well,” Nicole Pfeiffer, senior English and international studies major, said.

According to Jo Carney, chair of the department of English, Harrod is a natural in the classroom and a wonderful coworker.

“(Harrod) was the chair of the English department when I came here

in the early ’90s,” she said. “He was warm and welcoming and supportive then, as he has

been ever since.”

Harrod said that if he had not become an English professor, he would have become a park ranger. In fact, after retiring, he plans to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

“When I’m not doing English-teacher stuff, I spend a lot of time hiking,” Harrod said. “One of my ambitions when I retire is to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It probably won’t happen all at once. It will probably be in pieces, but I plan to do it.”

Harrod first came to the College on Sept. 1, 1968. He had previously taught as a graduate assistant at Penn State from 1964 until coming to the College.

According to Harrod, the reason he enjoys teaching at the College is “the intellectual stimulation that comes from (his) students and colleagues” and the greatest joy in teaching in general is “seeing a light bulb go on in a student’s eyes.”

To get his students’ attention, Harrod was known to resort to unconventional methods of teaching, something students say they will not forget.

“He really brought literature to life, especially when he brought in his ukulele and made us sing along to the music of Robbie Burns, celebrated Scottish poet and author of ‘Auld Lang Syne,'” Pfeiffer said. “However, I’m not sure the classes next door were as appreciative of this approach.”

When it comes to literature, the College’s students know that few authors compete with James Joyce for Harrod’s attention.

According to Harrod, he first picked up a Joyce novel as a sophomore in college.

“We read ‘The Dead’ and our frustrated professor threw an eraser across the room and cried, ‘It’s impossible to talk about serious literature with a bunch of 18-year-old virgins!'”

According to Carney, Harrod’s love of James Joyce was the reason a marathon reading of “Ulysses” was chosen to celebrate Harrod’s retirement.

“He has done so much for the entire college community, so we wanted to do something special to honor his service here,” Carney said. “He’s a James Joyce expert and enthusiast, so a marathon reading of James Joyce seemed like just the thing to do. It’s an ambitious undertaking, as it takes at least 24 hours to read it aloud.”

Prior to the reading, Carney spoke briefly about Harrod’s time at the College and his upcoming retirement.

“We’re very sad because we’ll miss him, but it’s also cause for celebration,” she said, adding that the marathon reading was a particularly appropriate celebration because “there’s something about the word ‘marathon’ that describes (Harrod’s) time here at the College.”

The reading began at 2 p.m. on April 17, with Harrod beginning the first chapter and students continuing the reading throughout the day.

According to Carney, the reading even ended up at the Parkside Diner around 5 a.m. The reading then returned to the Bliss Lounge, where Harrod greeted the readers with donuts at 8 a.m. The massive undertaking, which finished at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, took 29-and-a-half hours to complete.

Harrod said when he found out about the plans for celebrating his retirement, he was “very touched.”

“Actually, I cried a little,” he said. “This has been a wonderful way to spend 40 years.”

He offered some advice to the students he would be leaving at the College.

“To paraphrase one of my favorite critics, George Steiner: ?Learn to care as much about the cry in the street as you do about the cry in the book,” Harrod said. “Educate your heart as well as your head. Have fun out there.”