Former Marietta mayor a gem

Editor’s Note: Gems of the Valley is a regular feature of the The Parkersburg News and Sentinel/The Marietta Times highlighting residents who do wonderful things for the community. Nominations can be sent to 519 Juliana St., Parkersburg WV 26101, faxed to 304-485-5122 or emailed to editorial@newsandsentinel.com.

MARIETTA – While Marietta resident Brooks Harper, 75, is best known for his work at the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, he wears many other hats.

“I’ve been involved in everything,” he said. “I just completed 20 years at Safetytown.”

Harper has been recognized as a Gem of the Valley, a series profiling residents who make the community better.

Harper has also been involved with Artsbridge, the Marietta Jaycees and nine Masonic organizations from Athens to Cambridge, including the learning center in Cambridge.

He also spent 17 years in local politics, serving on Marietta City Council and as mayor of Marietta.

Of all the places he’s been, Marietta is the best, he said.

“I’ve always loved Marietta,” said Harper. “I was not born here; I was born in Phoenix. But Marietta’s special. The quality of life in the community, most people don’t appreciate it. When I worked at Union Carbide, I traveled extensively over the United States, for 15 years or better. I got exposed to a bunch of big cities all over the U.S. and Marietta is special.”

Harper’s wife Beverly said for many years, Brooks has been the go-to man for any projects that need done.

“If you want something done, go to Brooks,” she said. “It’ll get done, and it did. (He has) the talent to do those things.”

Harper said his talent for getting involved started early.

“I think I was probably cursed at a very young age,” he said. “My father was a homebuilder. He put a hammer in my hand at 10 years old and by the time I was 16, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do to build a house.”

He put his skills to work restoring a house on Franklin Street, which he now lets local nonprofits use as a meeting spot and for fundraisers.

A program he loves is a learning center in Cambridge which helps teach dyslexic children how to read.

“It’s something that just makes me swell up when I get in there and hear those kids talking about (the program),” Harper said. “It’s such a rewarding thing to be involved with.”

Chuck Swaney, vice president of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, said he’s worked hand-in-hand with Harper for the last seven years.

“We’ve worked on many projects together in that time,” he said. “He is a staunch supporter of the west side; its empowerment and improvement.”

Swaney said Harper is very civic-minded as well, having served as Marietta’s mayor. He also worked to get the railroad cars in Harmar, where Whipple’s Whimsical Toys is located, restored to where people could take a step back in time.

“I think he’s always been sort of a natural born leader,” Swaney said. “He’s graciously donated that property (where the Historic Harmar Bridge Company office is) to let us hold meetings and have a small train museum in there. He’s very generous.”

Mayor Joe Matthews seconded Swaney’s opinion of Harper.

“He’s president of the Harmar Bridge Company and has a business in the Harmar district, (Harper’s Landing),” Matthews said. “He’s been instrumental in doing a lot of things over there. He and I serve on the board of the Boys and Girls Club. He’s affiliated with a lot of different organizations.”

Matthews said Harper’s work in Harmar makes him a good nomination for the Gems of the Valley.

“Brooks and I graduated together in 1956,” said Matthews. “I joined the U.S. Air Corps and he joined the U.S. Navy. In (19)91, he and I ran against each other for mayor. It’s the first time in the city two classmates have run against each other. I think he’s a very deserving nomination for Gems of the Valley He’s been very good for the community and very active. He’s done a lot for the Harmar Bridge Company and the Village of Harmar.”

In addition to that, Harper said he’s helped make Front Street look the way it does today.

“I got the landscape and architecture class at Ohio University (in the late 1980s) to spend a whole quarter down here,” he said. “I gave them four blocks in Marietta and four blocks in Harmar. I said, ‘Use your imagination and come up with drawings, diagrams and pictures.’ It took a good 10 years for it to materialize, but Front Street pretty much looks like the students thought it should.”

Beverly said her husband has done so much and that many count on him, her most of all.

“I call him my Superman,” she said. “He just doesn’t wear the cape.”

Of all the things Harper has done, he said there’s one thing that fills him with more pride than anything else.

“I’m proudest of my family,” he said. “I’ve had a good ride, I’ll tell you that. I like being involved (in so many things). I’m 75 years old and I still get my hands dirty out there a lot. There are things I can look at and say I had a (hand in completing), that you can have fun if (you’re not) afraid to open up the door and walk through it.”