It was his night.
But at the Thursday grand opening of the new Lakewood school that bears his name, retired Army Lt. Gen. William H. Harrison used the occasion to shine a light on others.
The new campus of Harrison Preparatory School, which opened to students in January, is located adjacent to another new school set to open in the fall. Four Heroes Elementary School is named for four Lakewood police officers who were gunned down in 2009.
The 81-year-old Harrison, who is affected by a form of Parkinson’s disease and struggles to stand and speak, stood and asked his audience Thursday to observe a moment of silence “to honor the fallen heroes and their families.” He said he was honored and humbled to have the school named for him share a campus with Four Heroes.
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Then he told the story of how Harrison Prep, which offers the prestigious International Baccalaureate program for students in grades six through 12, came to be named for him.
Harrison, a former commander of Fort Lewis, retired from active military service in 1991, then turned to civic life. He was instrumental in the drive to incorporate the city of Lakewood and became the new city’s first mayor in 1995.
Years later, a member of the School Board approached him about having a school named in his honor, Harrison said. He must have wavered.
“Then they called out the big guns,” he recalled with a chuckle. “Claudia Thomas called and said, ‘Do it!’ ”
Thomas, like Harrison, is a former mayor of Lakewood. She was one of many Lakewood leaders who attended the ceremony Thursday.
Clover Park School Board President Marty Schafer said Harrison “exemplifies the type of leadership this school continues to perpetuate.”
The school began in 2005 as an experiment, a fifth- through ninth-grade school, sharing space with Oakwood Elementary. It later changed to its current grade configuration and was named for Harrison in 2008. It moved that year to the old Lake City Elementary, and in January, students and staff moved to the new building, which is located next to Clover Park Technical College.
Amanda Thomas and Brooke Bowman, both Harrison Prep 11th graders, helped with the move.
“Seeing everything fall into place, when kids walked in on the first day, you could see their faces,” Amanda said.
“It was jaw-dropping,” added Brooke.
Bianca Vieyra, the school’s ASB president, said Harrison Prep helped her bloom.
“I started in middle school as a shy, quiet, introverted person who kept to myself most of the time,” she said. But she said school faculty helped her reach her potential.
“I became more of a risk-taker, an inquirer and a caring friend,” she said.
A three-star general upon retirement, Harrison began his Army career in 1954 as an infantryman, when he entered the Army at Fort Knox in his native Kentucky. He served 37 years in the Army, rising to command troops at posts around the world.
Among his many military honors, Harrison earned the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the Joint Service Commendation Medal. In September, Joint Base Lewis-McChord dedicated a headquarters for the 7th Infantry Division to him.
On Thursday night, the School Board added one more honor for Harrison.
After first unveiling a portrait of the retired general that will hang in the school entryway, Schafer presented Harrison with the School Board’s Values Coin.
“Lt. Gen. Harrison is known throughout Lakewood and the military community for his high standards, dedication, and commitment to making his community a better place for all,” Schafer said. “He values quality education and exemplifies the Clover Park School District Board of Director values of a shared vision, integrity, respect, courage and love.”