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The Harvills of Austin Peay State University: How one family spent 90 years supporting the local university

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN Evans Harvill (’44, ’47), alumnus, son of a former Austin Peay president and long-time supporter of his alma mater, passed away on Monday, May 10th, 2021. He was 95 years old.

Evans Harvill

Evans Harvill

“The loss of Evans Harvill is truly a sad one for our Governor family,” APSU President Michael Licari said. “He will be remembered by his friends at Austin Peay State University as a distinguished alumnus who supported his alma mater in many academic areas, as well as the arts and athletics. Over the years, his family has built a lasting legacy at this University, and he faithfully continued their tradition of excellence throughout his life. Our thoughts are with his wife Sherri and their family during this difficult time.”

Harvill grew up with Austin Peay, arriving on campus as a three-year-old in the summer of 1929, shortly before the new school’s first classes began. A feature story in the 2017 issue of Austin Peay: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of Austin Peay State University, highlighted the family’s connection to the school.

An edited version of that story is available below the video.

The First Years

In the summer of 1929, a young, handsome World War I veteran named Halbert Harvill arrived in Clarksville to teach history at the newly formed Austin Peay Normal School. The 36-year-old Hickman County native found a small house on College Street, across from the campus, and after getting everything settled, he took his wife, Catherine, and their three-year-old son, Evans, to look at the small school.

“I can remember moving in because it was such a beautiful campus,” Evans Harvill (’44, ’47), who passed away on Monday, said in a 2017 interview. “We had the most gorgeous oak trees, and the only two buildings now that were on the campus when it opened are Harned Hall and, I think, the power plant.”

The state law establishing the new teachers’ college went into effect on April 26th, 1927, but Austin Peay didn’t officially open until the fall of 1929. The arrival of the Harvills that afternoon began a relationship between the school and the family that has continued throughout Austin Peay’s entire existence.

 


 

“I grew up on that campus,” Harvill said in his gentlemanly southern accent. “I grew up playing in Castle Heights. From the time I was three, I was within walking distance of the college. I’d ride my tricycle on campus.”

Every morning, his father, Halbert, walked from their College Street house to the school grounds dominated by an imposing, Gothic Revival-style structure known as the Castle Building. Narrow towers rose from the building’s corners, and crenellations along the top gave it the look of a medieval fortress. Sometimes, on blustery spring afternoons, Halbert and others spotted strange black objects, like giant crows, in the sky behind the building.

“We’d go on Drane Street and put up our kites,” Harvill said. “We made them out of dry cleaning bags and flour paste. They were big, and they’d almost go out of sight.”

A Post-War President

APSC President Halbert Harvill

APSC President Halbert Harvill

Harvill eventually enrolled at the neighboring school, but in the early 1940s, during World War II, both father and son left Austin Peay, volunteering to serve their country in the military. When Harvill returned in 1945 to finish his degree, he noticed cracks and loose bricks running along the old buildings. One day, he received a call from his father. Tennessee Governor Jim McCord was offering Halbert the position of president at Austin Peay, and the elder Harvill, still in the military, asked his son if he should take it.

“I said, ‘Dad, I know you love the school, and it was your life for so many years, but it’s a no-brainer. The school is dead. There aren’t about 200 students left and the buildings are in disarray. I don’t think anybody can resurrect it,’” Harvill said.

 

Harvill, a retired local attorney, spend his last years with his wife, Sherri, in Clarksville’s Sango community. Even in his 90s, he regularly returned to the campus he called home, where he often thought back to those days when his father walked across the quiet grounds to teach a history class.

“I’m so proud of how it has progressed,” Harvill said. “Not only physical situations, but in the quality. Every time I’m over there, I think how happy my father would be if he could see it. He loved it dearly.”


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