Randy Harp, who taught in Milford School District for 23 years, passed away on Friday, March 28, 2014 after battling pancreatic cancer. On Tuesday, April 1, a Celebration of Life was held at the Milford High School Auditorium, where friends and family gathered to remember Mr. Harp.
“I want to thank each of you for being here, for the tribute to my dad and the support everyone has shown my family over the past 13 months,” Andrew Harp, Randy’s youngest son said. “From the staff at the Tunnell Cancer Center, to Delaware Hospice, and especially the teachers and staff at Milford School District, my brother, Josh, and I are overwhelmed with the help and support our parents have received during Dad’s illness. Neither of us live in this area any longer, but we knew that our parents had a strong support system, and that system kept them strong.”
Mr. Harp taught at Milford Middle School, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School and Mispillion Elementary. When he was not in the classroom, he coached sports, was an active member of the Milford Lions Club and served as a Deacon at the Independent Bible Fellowship Church. His son, Josh, said it was his faith in God that helped his father remain strong throughout his illness.
“Dad could have turned angry at the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer,” Josh said. “Instead, he used his diagnosis as a way to get closer to God, hoping to strengthen that relationship as he fought his illness. He wanted his faith to be the legacy he left behind, but he left more than that. His legacy is in the people he touched – my brother and I, his students, the athletes he coached, his grandkids – that is what he will be remembered for.”
Mr. Harp was born in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, the home of Punxsatawney Phil. He and his wife, Beverly, the Child Nutrition Supervisor at Milford School District, celebrated Groundhog Day every year. Mrs. Harp baked cookies in the shape of groundhogs to hand out during the day, and Mr. Harp wore his trademark groundhog hat throughout the school day. Reverend Guy Simpson, who led the memorial service, commented that, if it were up to Randy and Bev, Groundhog Day would be a national holiday.
“Anytime someone mentions Randy, the first words out of their mouths are ‘what a great guy,” Rob Craig, a close friend of Mr. Harp’s, said. “When I first met him, I never thought that this fine, upbeat Christian gentleman would become one of my closest friends. He loved his colleagues as much as he did his students. He was always kind and thoughtful to the custodians, the cafeteria staff, the secretaries, even the administration. However, he had an ornery side as well, and he loved a practical joke more than anyone.”
Mr. Craig talked about dressing students for the first time in football uniforms at the start of the season. He said that Mr. Harp would let the young men put their hip pads on backwards so the protective back plate was in the front, then send the boys to Mr. Craig so that he could explain the equipment designed to protect that part of their anatomy.
Mr. Craig and another friend of Mr. Harp’s, Joe Lingo, spoke of one particular practical joke that Mr. Harp played on new staff each year around the Thanksgiving holiday. The new teacher would receive a coupon for a free turkey that they had to redeem at the front office of the school. When the teacher went to the office to redeem the coupon, Mr. Harp would make a point to be there to listen as the office staff explained that they had no idea about a free turkey.
“I believe that joke worked on one Middle School teacher two years in a row,” Mr. Lingo said. “I was proud to call him my friend of 22 years. He wore many hats, and he wore them all well. He was a man of his word and was vocal in his faith. He was the ultimate professional, but never took himself seriously, and he had a great sense of humor. One year, his team was undefeated halfway through the season. He made a bet with the team that if they remained undefeated, he would shave his head. They did, and he shaved his head. To borrow a quote I read this weekend, football season, March Madness and Groundhog Day will never be the same.”