Dr. Homer Harris, the former Garfield High School and University of Iowa football captain who has a Seattle park named in his honor, has...
Dr. Homer Harris, the former Garfield High School and University of Iowa football captain who has a Seattle park named in his honor, has died at age 90.
Mr. Harris, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his final years, died at his Queen Anne home March 17.
After starring as an all-league end on undefeated Garfield football teams in 1932 and 1933, the Bulldogs’ captain chose Iowa over the University of Washington.
A factor in his decision was a better racial climate at Iowa, according to his daughter, Heather Felzenberg of Seattle. She said her father had been encouraged to become a Hawkeye by Garfield coach Leon Brigham, an Iowa man with whom he shared a special bond.
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Race relations were far from perfect in Iowa, though, and one example of discrimination was a prohibition against blacks using the campus swimming pool.
Mr. Harris was a three-year starter at Iowa, playing end and tackle. He was team MVP as a junior.
As a senior in 1937, he became the first African-American to be elected captain of a Big Ten football team. He was one of four black players for an Iowa squad that finished 1-7 under new coach Irl Tubbs, a man Mr. Harris once said “did everything he could to push me out of sight.”
“Homer was really a pioneer,” said Les Steenlage, executive director of the National Iowa Varsity Club in a 2002 interview. “It says a lot about him that his mates chose him to be their leader.”
In 2002, the University of Iowa inducted Mr. Harris into its athletic hall of fame.
After graduating from Iowa, Mr. Harris went to medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. He practiced in Chicago, then returned to Seattle and started his dermatology practice downtown in 1954. He didn’t retire from medicine until 2000.
Mr. Harris was the dermatologist to many of Seattle’s best-known families, such as the Nordstroms, according to his daughter.
“Some days, the line of patients would be out the office door to the elevator,” said Mrs. Felzenberg. “He wouldn’t charge people if they couldn’t pay.”
In 2002, an anonymous donor gave $1.3 million to create a half-acre Central Area park in honor of Harris at 24th Avenue and E. Howell Street.
Harris’ wife of 56 years, Dorothy, died in 2005. He is survived by his daughter and a grandson, Imants Homer Felzenberg, 18. At his request, there will be no funeral.