Auburn Women

Harvilee Harbarger ’53

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Harvilee Phillips (b. Feb. 27, 1931) first attended Auburn in 1949, but left school to help raise a family with husband Jack Harbarger. Though she never finished her studies in ornamental horticulture, Harbarger was instrumental in the completion of the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and was awarded an honorary degree from Auburn in 1972.

The following is excerpted from Memories (Before I Forget): Walker Street, Blossomwood and Points Beyond by Harvilee Phillips Harbarger.


(52) “…At the end of school, I was elected the most outstanding Senior Class girl. And to top it all off, the best part of it all is I was accepted at Alabama Polytechnic Institute as a student for the fall of 1949. Everybody knows now this was Auburn. It changed its name. It used to be API, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, and then it became Auburn University.

(55) “… At Auburn, I was strictly on my own, so I had to make decisions on my own and hope they would be the right ones. Rain or shine, class attendance was required then, and it seemed to rain a whole lot that freshman year. But you went — rain or shine. I made so many new friends, and my roommate was Nita Braly (Wilson), also from Huntsville. She has remained a lifelong friend of mine. We both went out for sorority rush and both pledged AOII, which is Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.

This was a great decision and we both enjoyed the camaraderie of sorority life. Classes were much more difficult than high school. Some studying was required, as grades were sent back home. My major was ornamental horticulture in the school of agriculture. To my schock, I was the only freshman girl in 500 freshman boys in the school of agriculture, but it was a very nice experience.

(56) “…The most exciting thing did happen that fall quarter. We were on the quarter system then. Auburn played Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham. I had a date with Bob Wilson, and Nita had a date with Jim Tatum. My Dad met us at the game in Birmingham and, wonder of wonders, Auburn won the game. I think it was 7-6 or something like that. Naturally, we weren’t supposed to win, but we did, and the Auburn students went wild in downtown Birmingham. That was still the day when we used feather pillows. The hotels were full of students, and after the game, some students opened windows in the upper stories of the Tutwiler Hotel, ripped open pillows, and the sky was full of floating feathers. My Daddy was horrified. Nita and I were staying with Nita’s aunt, and Bob and Jim somewhere else. Daddy took us all to dinner and gave us a very good lecture and told us definitely not to go to the Tutwiler Hotel. We didn’t.”

Harvilee in 1939 9 years old.

(57) “… So back to school we went, and the first week of December 1949, I happened to have a blind date with a member of the Sigma Pi fraternity named Jack Harbarger. From that night on, my bell was rung and my homesickness miraculously began to disappear. The date only lasted 30 minutes since it was 7:00 p.m. and I was freshman. My class check-in time back to the dorm was 7:30. After that 30-minute date, he couldn’t remember how to pronounce my name and I didn’t remember how to spell Harbarger. Those 30 minutes were the turning point in my life, as Jack, from that point on to 65 years later, was the light of my life. Jack — it’s hard to say — passed away July 4, 2014.

We had a couple more dates in December, but it was time to go home for Christmas holidays. We had two weeks to spend at home. That time passed, and due to my sudden interest in a fellow named Jack, I was actually anxious to leave home and get back to Auburn. Sure enough, as soon as we got back, Nita and I were walking to town from Auburn Hall and guess who we ran into: Jack. And from then on, we began to enjoy the best and happiest quarter we ever had at school. This quarter was special since I was a second quarter freshman, and Jack was a fourth-quarter senior. He would be graduating in March, so we only had one full quarter together enrolled at Auburn.

Jack was a Navy Veteran of WWII and going to school on the GI Bill. To me, he was just about everything a young girl could imagine the man of her dreams would be.”

Harvilee and group

Harvilee Phillips with her Ornamental Horticulture Plant Identification class, 1950

(63) “…School did lose its interest in my life after I met Jack, and Jack asked me to marry him in March of 1951 and gave me my beautiful diamond engagement ring. In those days, if you wanted to sleep with someone, it was the custom to be married first. That custom seems to have fallen by the wayside in today’s custom, but I like the old way better.

In high school, my dad always wanted me to date the boys my age, none older, and so I did just that. But I had a major problem with this and Jack. He was an older man since he was five years older than me. Because he had served in the Navy right out of high school for 2 years and then went to college, this made our age difference. This made no difference to me because I was head over heels in love with him. But after dating him for two years and Daddy getting to know all of his good qualities, he gave us his blessing to get married.

(66) “… I was very pleased that two of my professors at Auburn, Dr. henry Orr and Dr. Jim Franklin, with Fred Perry, came up for our wedding. They had a good time telling folks up here about some of my haps and mishaps. So to get to one tale: one weekend, Jack didn’t have to leave on Sunday night, he could stay over and leave Monday afternoon. So since class on Monday was mandatory in those days (I don’t think they even have to go to class now) I needed a very good excuse to cut class.

So I really started feeling BAD. I sent word to the greenhouse where my class was that I was very sick and needed a trip to the infirmary. Needless to say, I really enjoyed the extra Monday morning with Jack!

Well, Wednesday, I showed up for class. I was met with: how are you feeling today? Any better? And all eyes were on me and my health. It seems that floral design was the course we were studying that quarter, so they all decided to design a huge flower arrangement to send to the infirmary to poor, sick, little old me.

Well, they loaded it up in a fellow student’s truck and all went to deliver it to me at the infirmary. Needless to say, the huge, beautiful arrangement was sitting in the greenhouse because they’d never heard of Harvilee Phillips at the infirmary on Monday. I never lived that one down, but being the only girl in all my horticulture classes was still a lot of fun.

Harvilee and her husband

(left) Jack and Harvilee at the AOII Annual Formal, 1950

(right) Jack Harbarger and Harvilee Phillips, Dorm II, Auburn 1950

(66) “…After Jack graduated, he and thousands of other veterans were looking for jobs. His first job was an insurance adjuster with Crawford & Company in Birmingham. Since he travelled on this job, he had a car and a mileage expense. Luckily, he worked out his routes so he could be close to Auburn on the weekends, and we could see each other. So I continued my education as a student at Auburn through my sophomore year. We had a long-distance romance, and being able to be together most weekends did help. Jack was transferred to the Gadsden, Ala. office after about a year, and we were still able to carry on our weekend visits.

I enjoyed classes at Auburn, with the exception of trigonometry, which I did pass with Jack’s help. He always says he was my savior for that course. My horticulture courses were a breeze, and in my sophomore year, I was able to take some senior courses which helped me later in life. Auburn was a wonderful time in my life, and I am so thankful my Dad was able to send me. I was the only sibling in my family fortunate enough to attend college.

Harvilee glamour shot

From Harvilee and Jack’ss engagement  announcement in The Huntsville Times — Sunday, June 17, 1951

Starting my Landscape Design Business

(126) “… Life was moving along smoothly and all seemed to be going well, so about this time, when Julie was two years old, I decided to use some of my college education and open a landscape design consulting business. Plants were my love and it distressed me to see them greatly misused in the landscape. So I would charge an hourly fee to go to homeowners and help them decide the right plant for the right spot. My business logo was “Plan before you Plant.” I ran one ad in the Huntsville Times, and was off and running. This all led to many years of drawing landscape plans for homeowners, and also a 25-year term on the Huntsville Beautification Board. Most of my calls were done on weekends when Jack was available to be home with the children.

 (127) “… Going on to another phase in my life, my consulting and design business was keeping my busy, along with being a wife and mother, but I wanted very badly to have some credentials other than a city license. I was doing landscape plans for several architects in town, especially Harvey Jones. Harvey was a well-known historical restoration architect. I worked with him on Constitution Park, which required a lot of historical research as to what plants to use and where and when they would be appropriate for use in the 1800s.

I love history, so that was right down my alley. We worked together on the Huntsville Depot and the restoration of the Weeden House Museum. G.W. Jones and Sons hired me to do the landscape plan for the revitalization of downtown Huntsville in 1972 and then the re-planning of Scottsboro downtown. My work was so enjoyable because I met so many, many nice homeowners here in Huntsville and all over north Alabama. I had a sketchpad and would travel.

My horticulture professor at Auburn called and said that I could be grandfathered in to be registered as a landscape architect, as Alabama was adding that group to be registered. So I jumped at the chance, and to my knowledge, I became the first woman to be registered as a landscape architect in the state of Alabama in 1972. My registration number is 34.

My daughter, Julie, graduated from Auburn in landscape architecture and her registration number is 304. Since I now had the distinction of state registration, I applied for membership in the national group, the American Society of Landscape Architects, known as ASLA, and I was accepted. This was an exciting time for me. Jack and the children were behind me all the way. I travelled around to all the nurseries and garden centers, and enjoyed especially working with Chase Nursery, Byers Nursery, Athens Nursery, and so forth. In fact, an older gentleman, long time nurseryman and owner of Athens Nursery, presented me a framed diploma for a Bachelor of Experience from the University of Hard Knocks from Everywhere, USA. That has always been one of my favorite honors.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens

(129) “… I was always proud of Huntsville, and so when I was asked to participate in possibly planning a city botanical garden, it really struck my interest. So in December 1979, 14 plant and civic minded people met for the first time for the purpose of building a botanical garden in Huntsville. Huntsville was growing by leaps and bounds through the space program, Redstone Arsenal, and other high tech industries. We were not rocket scientists, but interested in growing something beautiful in our community. From the very first, we wanted and envisioned this to be a garden of the people, for the people and by the people. The first order of business was we needed to get organized, so at the beginning of the New Year in 1980, we began our meetings. Gary Murray was our first president. He was the County Agent for Madison County. This was a great choice. We met at churches, around our kitchen tables and any available spot.

We needed civic help, so we began attending city council meetings hoping to win the councilmen over to our side. We attended every city council meeting en masse. We were always polite, but very insistent. We went to so many council meetings, you could almost hear them groan and say, “Not them again.”

Our persistence paid off. The council got together and voted that if we could raise $200,000 dollars in three years, they would match these funds. They thought that would get rid of us. Oh boy! We were off and running. Little old ladies in tennis shoes can do remarkable things when they set their minds to it. We began drawing plans to show off what we planned for our city to raise interest, and from the community raised our $200,000 in six months. My company, Harbarger Landscape Designs, along with me, Julie, and our draughtsman John Martz, drew plans for the first proposed 35 acres. Redstone Arsenal was a great help, and leased to the city about 100 acres next to the Space and Rocket Center for development into a passive park for 99 years, and the city rents it to us for $1 a year. So we began to dream no small dreams, and today, about 28 years later, we have grown and become one of the top ten attractions in the state of Alabama. This garden has been one of my dreams come true, and I feel so fortunate to have been a large part of its inception and reality.

I’m the last one that’s really active in the garden. I started the theme that they use constantly: dream no small dreams.