Cal Harris, who taught nearly all of the upper-level U.S. history classes at the school for more than 40 years, passed away on Tuesday after a short bout with COVID-19.
By all indications from grieving former students and fellow faculty members, Mr. Harris was Bountiful High School.
“He’s a landmark here,” Bountiful principal Aaron Hogge says to ABC4.com. “Cal was loved by everyone. The kids really enjoyed being in this class. And the reason why was that Cal trusted his kids and loved his kids and his kids loved Cal and trusted him. It was really a beautiful relationship.”
Harris was the kind of teacher far more interested in the lives of his students than in building his own career, although he was held in extremely high regard by his peers. Hogge jokes that Harris was rarely seen in the school’s faculty room, even during his lunch break. For the most part, Harris stayed in his classroom during his break, usually having a one-on-one lunch with one of his students.
“He would spend every moment he could with students,” Hogge recalls of Harris.
To many of his students, Harris’ impact was profound. Wyatt Frasier, who kept in regular contact with Harris, even after graduation and up to his death, calls his former teacher “a central figure” in his life.
“When you get together with your friends from high school or from college and you talk about memories, some people are kind of central characters and then there’s like, background actors. He was a central character,” Frasier says.
As Frasier was determining what his future might be while he was a student at Bountiful, the idea of applying to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York became more and more present. Harris, Frasier says, was instrumental not only in getting him into one of the most prestigious schools in the country but also in making sure he was getting the most out of his opportunity.
“There’s the typical you know, letters of recommendation and things like that that are kind of boilerplate but more than that, he pushed me to be more introspective,” Frasier, who graduated from Bountiful in 2011 and West Point in 2017. “Even to this day, I can trace back several habits that I have that he really encouraged.”
Frasier says his experience with Harris wasn’t unique. He remembers one classmate who was a bit “edgy” and likely misunderstood, often joined Harris in his classroom for lunch.
“He wanted people to listen to him and take him seriously, and Mr. Harris did that,” he recalls.
Harris’ kindness became legendary among his students’ parents. Frasier’s mother would often implore him to come back year after year to teach the rest of her children. Audrey Frasier, despite not officially being one of Harris’ students, often got help on her online advanced placement classes with a visit to his classroom. When news of Harris’ passing reached Frasier’s dad, he cried.
For the first time in many years, Bountiful High School will begin the school year without one of its most beloved and talented educators. Hogge explains that picking up Harris’ slate of multiple advanced placement, concurrent enrollment, and international baccalaureate classes will likely take a team of three or four teachers.
“It’s replacement by committee,” Hogge says. “And he’ll never be replaced in our hearts, he was loved by all.”
Over the years, things have changed a lot at the school; global events and politics have shaped the discussions in the classroom and in the curriculum, Bountiful’s longstanding nickname was switched from “Braves” to “Redhawks,” technology has taken on a bigger and bigger role, especially during the pandemic, but Harris remained a pillar of the school. He taught there for so many years, he even was one of Hogge’s wife’s teachers when she was a high-schooler.
His loss will likely be the biggest one yet for the school and its students, but the legacy of his love for his students and the lessons he taught are just as likely to last for decades more.
“For the rest of my life, he’ll be someone that I think about and that I’ll be able to attribute my formative years to,” Frasier, a hardened military officer, says while fighting back tears. “If I’m sitting on my deathbed and someone says that I became the kind of person that they were, I would be okay with that.”