Past, present interconnected for ‘Joe’ Harned

Lifestyles: South Hill resident known for his philanthropy and love for planting tomato varieties

Special to the HeraldOctober 30, 2013 

H.C. “Joe” Harned enjoys his summer crop of tomatoes. In the past year, Harned had five varieties on 29 stocks.

BEVERLY OPPELT/COURTESY PHOTO

Today, 96-year-old philanthropist and World War II veteran H.C. “Joe” Harned spends his time managing funding requests and growing his enviable tomato garden. And he has no plans to stop gardening any time soon.

“People expect me to keep them supplied with tomatoes,” he said with a laugh.

Harned is a native of the Turkeyfoot Valley area of southwestern Pennsylvania, so named by a George Washington survey team.

“It was a poor area, and almost everyone had a garden,” Harned said.

His interest in business and sense of entrepreneurship developed early. Even as a child, he said he always looked for ways to earn extra money.

Among the valley residents were a number of World War I widows who lived alone. As early as age 6, Harned decided to make money by helping them order their seeds in January and February, and he distributed them in the spring. He also sold magazine subscriptions and popcorn when the circus came to town.

Gardening, always a continuing love, was made possible when he moved to what is now South Hill some 20 years ago. With the additional space, he specialized in growing tomatoes, and he’s planted many varieties throughout the years. This year, he had five varieties on 29 stocks.

“My favorite tomato is Super Fantastic,” Harned said. “If I could only have one plant, that would be it. It is large and prolific and, overall, a good tomato. This year, I had 98 tomatoes on one plant.”

He also recommends the popular Brandywine, also prolific and great for juice, as well as the Goliath.

One of the most flavorful tomatoes is the Black Krim, which is tricky to grow and not grown for its looks, Harned said. Black in color, it is difficult to tell when it’s ripe.

“You just have to learn its characteristics,” Harned said.

Harned found his way to Tacoma after he served in World War II. He called the bombing of Pearl Harbor the singular event that changed his perspective on life. At the time, he had left Pennsylvania and was working in Baltimore as a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“I was really angry,” he recalled.

Harned decided to enlist.

“I wanted to be a fighter pilot but was ultimately assigned to a carrier in the Pacific, going between Midway and Guadalcanal.”

At the end of his service, Harned was assigned to shore duty in Tacoma. Although he didn’t know what he wanted to do after his military service, he knew he wanted to stay in Tacoma.

“I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world,” he said. “I wanted to find work that would pay the best.”

He first worked as a meat cutter, but he ultimately returned to college and received a bachelor of science degree in business from the University of Puget Sound. To support his young family, he had a service station and bought a duplex where he could live and make money. That experience led him to real estate, where he became a top agent in Tacoma. Later, he began to buy and sell land and property.

Harned appeared to have a knack for envisioning areas where there would be subsequent growth.

“I remember thinking that, with all the development in the Seattle area, Tacoma was destined to grow,” Harned said. “People wondered why I would purchase land around 38th (Street) because it was so far out. When Costco wanted space to build a store in Tacoma, I sold them the land, and then when they outgrew that store, I sold them additional space where they built the current store.”

Harned also is known for his philanthropy. Harned Hall on the campus of the University of Puget Sound and Harned Hall Student Union at St. Martin’s University in Lacey are named in his honor.

The Harned Health Careers Center on the campus of Tacoma Community College is scheduled to open next year on his birthday, Sept. 6. His donation will help pay for computer-controlled devices that simulate medical conditions in the human body.

When Harned read that no high school graduate in his hometown had ever received a scholarship, he was determined to change that picture. Since then, he has given more than 60 scholarships to students, some of whom have gone on to teach.

He also helped to build a church and historical society in the community.

“It makes my spine tingle when I know I have helped someone,” Harned said. “I want to see how I have helped and know that I was the one who came by.”

Linda Henry is a freelance reporter for the Herald.

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