“Old” Harrison lost one of the pillars last week. Harry A. “Ham” Rolfes passed away at age 90.
I first became aware of Ham even before he was elected mayor in November, 1967.
We once went fishing at Hueston Woods when I was staying with some friends up there and a whole group of us spent the day out on the lake.
We caught 96 fish that day and had a big fish fry back at the cabins that night.
Our relationship would change over the next 47 or so years as we went from exchanging simple greetings on the street to the January night in 1996 when we were sworn in as city officials. He, for his seventh term as Mayor, me, my first term on city council.
He resigned that post later that year, but we had some spirited discourse in the meantime.
In the brief time that we served together, our only difference of opinion occurred over the elimination of smoking from the community center.
I pointed out that we were violating state law. It wasn’t that Ham was wishing to violate laws but more that he was concerned with the elderly citizens who were long-time smokers and didn’t want to make them quit “cold turkey.”
We arranged for a smoking area and were able to obey state law.
Old school for sure
Ham was extremely old school, and had a certain style in how he conducted business both personally and governmentally.
In his heyday, if you needed to speak to him about a matter, you would find him at his business.
Harrison had not yet outgrown the personal touch. He always was a “hands on” type of mayor.
When he first became mayor, the village had four policemen and two cars, the fire department was a volunteer operation, and there were only a few employees in utilities, the street department which included garbage pickup and clerical workers.
It was not uncommon to find him with some city workers looking at some problem or other on one of the downtown streets.
During his time in office, the Village (later City) of Harrison more than doubled in area.
Good day, good laugh
His son, Harry Wayne, and I graduated from Miami University on the same June day in 1974.
As a matter of fact we sat next to each other among the 700 or so business students graduating.
Several times after that when Ham and I would talk about that event, he always would remark that it was just about the best graduation he ever attended.
Political humorist Art Buchwald was the commencement speaker, and he had graduates and families rolling with laughter during his speech mostly at the expense of soon-to-be former President Nixon.
Over the years, I would run into Ham, generally having coffee at the bakery in recent years or before that on Wednesday mornings in Bill Ennis’ office behind the firehouse.
That became the best time to find the group that basically ran the town for many years when I would like to be enlightened on some issue or other from the old days.
Ham and I didn’t always agree, but I respect him for some of the things that he accomplished or took care of during his terms of service.
He served more years in total than any other Harrison mayor, date, led the recovery from Harrison’s worst natural disaster and presided over Harrison’s largest growth period.
His late wife, Alice, sometimes used to refer to him as “My Hammie.”
Actually, he was “Our Hammie.”
Jim Robertson is a longtime Harrison resident, a member of Harrison City Council, and a weekly columnist for The Harrison Press.
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