Remembering Ken Harris

On March 27, longtime EOL employee Ken Harris passed away unexpectedly at his home due to a heart attack.

Ken Harris.Ken on vacation in New Zealand, wearing his NCAR shirt and Left Hand Brewing Company cap. In his hand is a dog toy that says, "Dog Beer."

Ken, a machinist by trade, began working in NCAR’s Machine Shop in 1994, when he applied for the job at the suggestion of his wife, Teresa Harris (NESL/MMM). He enjoyed getting to work with a variety of people across NCAR and UCAR, as well as at organizations such as CU/LASP, NASA, NOAA, and others. Ken especially found fulfillment in building one-of-a-kind prototype instruments. He also liked learning about the science behind the field projects he contributed to, many of which were international in scope.

Senior scientist Charlie Knight (NESL/MMM) recalls that Ken helped him with an experiment to demonstrate how water, when freezing in a confined space, will build up pressure and squeeze ice out of an opening “just like toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube.” Using a steel pipe with end caps and a slot milled in one end by Ken, they successfully demonstrated this in the lab.

“Ken was very interested in the experiment and the mechanical challenges,” Charlie says. “For a person like me he was an ideal colleague, because I usually know what I want to do but don’t know how to do it. NCAR is bound to miss his attitude of helpfulness, friendliness, and interest in research.”

Jean Hancock, who heads Transportation Services for SaSS, says that Ken would help her with minor repairs and maintenance on the UCAR shuttles. “People would ask him for advice on home repairs or broken parts,” Jean recalls. “He had tons of experience and could usually walk you through a repair, or he would take a look at a broken part and say, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ Then, soon after, he would reappear with the part in hand, fixed and ready to go.”

Jean noticed that Ken had a special place in his heart for all things short and furry, and occasionally the feathered variety as well. “He once rigged a giant red gas container to the high bay door [on the east side of FL1] to coax a confused hummingbird out,” she says. “I will always remember Ken’s kindness, generosity, and humor.”

To friends, Ken was known as “Mr. Fix It,” a tribute to his ability to fix just about anything and his knack for taking things apart and putting them back together.  Teresa tells a story about a wedding gift that the two received after they married in 1976. One of Ken’s co-workers had built them a simple digital clock, long before digital technology was widespread. Ken immediately told Teresa that he was going to take the clock apart to show her how it worked, despite her discouragement. When he opened it up, he found a note inside that said, “I knew you couldn’t resist.” Teresa says that she knew then that Ken would always want to take things apart.

Ken served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War and was a lifetime member of VFW Post 2601 in Longmont. He belonged to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Longmont. He loved to travel, making many friends along the way, and also enjoyed scuba diving, camping, and restoring coin collectables. He made wine and smoked a variety of meats, sharing them with others.

Ken and Teresa volunteered every year at the Longmont Humane Society’s annual dog washes. Ken prepared the bratwursts using the Sheboygan Method, pre-cooking them in a mix of Left Hand Brewing Company beer and sweet onions, then grilling them for customers whose dogs were being bathed. Over the years, Ken and Teresa adopted several neighborhood stray cats and found homes for others.

Donations in Ken’s name can be made to the Longmont Humane Society.