Journalism students with financial need will benefit

By Megan Gering
J Alumni News staff

Norman and Bernice Harris are giving people.

In 1992, they helped endow the NU Norman and Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies. They donated a 90-piece collection of Native American contemporary pottery to the University of Nebraska State Museum. They give three annual scholarships to NU journalism students and sponsor six annual cancer research stipends for NU Medical Center students. And that is only the beginning.

“We’ve set up a trust that will not only continue the scholarships we currently give but will actually increase the number and amount that is involved,” Norman Harris said.

The Harrises, both originally from Omaha, have been interested in the University of Nebraska since the early 1940s when Norman Harris graduated from NU with a degree in political science.

It was during his college years that his interests in journalism first developed.

“At that time, the journalism department consisted of four or five classes,” Norman Harris said. “And they didn’t even offer a journalism major.”

Harris was able to stay involved with journalism, however, by working on the school newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan, for four years. He worked his way through the ranks and was eventually the editor-in-chief during his senior year.

“The Daily Nebraskan was my sustenance in college,” Norman Harris said. “I lived off of it for four years.”

Although the Harrises have lived in San Diego for 34 years, they still have the Daily Nebraskan sent to their home and often read the online edition. Norman Harris said his involvement with the school paper, as well as his long-time interest in journalism, pushed the couple toward establishing the journalism scholarships.

“The Arts and Sciences departments wanted us to do something more for them, but we had already done the Judaic Center,” Harris said.

“I met Dean Norton and liked him, so we did the journalism thing.”

Will Norton Jr., dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, said he appreciated the Harrises’ generosity and respected Norman Harris’ business sense.

“He started with almost no money and made a fortune after World War II,” Norton said. “And now he wants to give it away.”

After graduating from NU, Norman Harris worked in a number of different fields, including real estate, auto repair, accounting and tax work. His fortune came, however, after he went into retail chain management.

Bernice Harris spent her career as an artist and has taught classes and written a book about Japanese flower arranging. She also worked as a decorative arranger and consultant.

Bernice Harris shares her interest in the arts with her husband, and the couple has accumulated a large Native American art collection over the years, despite their tendency to share their collection with others.

“We’re planning on donating some more American Indian Pueblo pottery to Morrill Hall this year,” Norman Harris said.

Harris said he and his wife were also interested in cancer research because of personal experience. Both have been diagnosed with cancer and have successfully battled it. Their niece, however, died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 40. Based on their experiences, and in their niece’s memory, the Harrises established the cancer research scholarships.

Norman Harris said both he and his wife enjoyed giving to others and hoped that the trust fund would allow them to stay involved with NU even after their deaths.

“We’re realistic with ourselves,” Norman Harris said. “We’re both in our 80s, so we know that we won’t be around forever.”

Norton, for one, appreciates the Harrises’ giving spirits.

“You can tell that they really want to help students with financial need,” Norton said. “That’s commendable.”

Norman Harris said administrators at NU have shown their appreciation in many ways. In particular, the university awarded the Harrises honorary doctorates of humane letters in 1994.

“That was just thrilling for both of us,” Norman Harris said.