TRIBUTE TO NOLEN HARSH
By: Rick Hockmeyer, EHS Teacher
Twenty-eight-year-old Nolen Harsh took over the duties of teaching physics and astronomy at Enid High School in the fall of the 1967-68 school year.
Nolen Ray Harsh was born July 15, 1939, near Longdale, Oklahoma. He was raised and educated in Enid, and graduated from Enid High in 1957. He attended Phillips University, and graduated with a B.A. in 1962. In the fall of that year, Nolen began teaching math and science at Longfellow Jr. High. Three years later, Nolen made the move to Enid High School, accepting a math position and also sponsoring the “science-projects club.” Simultaneously that year, Nolen earned his “Masters of Education” degree at Phillips University.
With his duties as the EHS astronomy instructor, Nolen also took over responsibility for the school’s observatory. With an interest in helping students understand what they saw in the night skies, Nolen developed an “astro-physics” class, which soon became a part of the school’s curriculum. With the retirement of long-time biology teacher Harold Duckett, Nolen’s teaching duties expanded to include becoming head of the EHS Science Department in 1971.
Nolen’s classes were quite rigorous, and were generally populated by students interested in accepting an “academic challenge,” with plenty of high-level math and analytics incorporated into all three of his subjects. In addition, he heavily utilized the observatory for nighttime star-viewing, and used a state of the art camera, and a classroom-closet dark room, to develop his “celestial photographs.”
Nolen retired in 1991, but made several “return engagements,” taking long-term substituting assignments for the school district through 2001. This did not end his teaching, however; from the fall of 2006 through spring of 2010, he severed as an adjunct professor at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, teaching general physical science and elementary astronomy, commuting to the school’s main campus in Alva three times a week. Nolen also participated in “Society of Physics Students” events (the Northwestern Physics Club), as well as helping with the programming at the University’s SLL Observatory near Freedom, Oklahoma.
Northwestern’s Dr. Steven Maier, the Department Chair of Natural Sciences and Professor of Physics, wrote of his association with Nolen:
“He had such a wonderful, deadpan/dry humor that came from the experiences of knowing how flat some lines can fall; often his jests were of kind that would reward only those who were alert.”
Nolen Harsh was loved and respected by all who knew him, but he wore many hats, such that many of his acquaintances may not have been aware of the totality of his endeavors. He had a passion for reading and writing, and was a member of both the Enid Writers Club and the Don Blanding Poetry Society, as well as being a published writer—under a secret pseudonym—of short stories and poetry...which he sold to publishers in China!
He also was a Sunday School teacher at the Evangel Assembly of God Church, an avid chess player and a member of the “Enid Chess Club,” and liked to work out at the gym, even participating in yoga classes! Nolen enjoyed attending Enid Symphony events with his special friend and former teaching colleague, Mary Evelyn Adams. The two also enjoyed occasional visits to a local shooting range.
Nolen, a one-time Enid “Teacher of the Year” died December 1, 2010, after a lengthy bout with respiratory illnesses.
I remember Nolen as the consummate gentleman. He was the type of person that would make you glad to be around him, not only because he was so gracious and humble, but he was also very knowledgeable about a wide range of topics. In addition, he had a keen sense of humor which, sometimes could be rather subtle, but was always followed by an endearing chuckle or grin. I was, and still am proud to call him my friend.
Among others who knew and respected him, Jamae Stewart taught Spanish at EHS and was there during the same years as Nolen. She remained his friend into retirement: “Nolen was extremely intelligent. If you asked him a question about science, you could guarantee his answer would be perfect. Nolen loved to read. He could be reading four or five books at the same time! But his best characteristic was that I never saw him angry. He simply lived his life as an example to us all.”
Dennis Iselin, history teacher and principal at Enid High from 1966-1989, began his tenure at EHS in a room adjacent to Nolen’s science classroom. He writes:
“For the 23 years Nolen Harsh and I were colleagues and fast friends, I came to think of him as a true “man for all seasons.” He was a published poet, and an author of detective fiction, a caretaker to his mother and father, and a science teacher of extraordinary skills and ability. Nolen taught physics and astronomy in addition to being in charge of audio-visuals for all classes. He was also an exceptional department head for all Enid’s secondary schools. However, Nolen’s “first love” was his astronomy class.
“From the time he took over the astronomy class, until he retired, Nolen considered Astronomy to be especially enjoyable and rewarding, for himself and his students. He recognized and constantly reminded anyone who would listen to him what an edge over other schools Enid High had in having an observatory. As principal at EHS, I also realized what an educational advantage our school and community had with Nolen Harsh in charge of this valuable asset. I suspect that Nolen is aware of the hard work being done to modernize and improve the observatory and the high school astronomy program. I think he would probably thank you with all of his heart.”
EHS Astronomy Teachers