Saturday, December 22, 2007

College Foundation Selects Grace Harmon For Achievement Award

Will Recognize Her Lifetime of Community Betterment

The St. Charles Community College Foundation has chosen local civic leader Grace Harmon of St. Charles as the 2008 recipient of the Professional Excellence Achievement Recognition (PEAR) award.

Harmon will be the guest of honor at the Foundation’s annual PEAR Award Gala Dinner on Feb. 23 at Whitmore Country Club in St. Peters.

Each year, PEAR award recipients are recognized by the community college Foundation Board for their personal and professional contributions to the quality of life for St. Charles County and its residents.

Harmon, who with her late husband, Ray, previously operated the world’s largest and most successful baby photo company, has spent a lifetime contributing back to society through her leadership, volunteerism, and philanthropy.

“It is easy to understand why our Foundation Board of Directors has selected Grace, whose love of community clearly demonstrates a true spirit of caring and giving,” said Julie Bartch, president of the Foundation. “Her causes have been many – supporting and encouraging economic development, education, health care, the arts, the disabled, and those who simply need a roof over their heads or a head start in seeking career and job opportunities.”

A savvy businesswoman in her own right, Harmon worked with husband Ray as he developed First Foto-HASCO International 50 years ago in Alexandria, Va., later establishing St. Charles as the headquarters in 1977. By 1999, HASCO was serving 2,750 hospitals in 50 states, photographing roughly 78 percent of all American babies. As the company grew, Grace would step in to start up new departments – “a jack of all trades,” she called herself. She found her real niche in the personnel department hiring and placing new employees.

For the Harmons, professional success was a blessing that reflected a joy for living, a respect for work, and a love of family, church, and education. Their business success afforded them a means to become active in their community with a goal of supporting change and innovation for the greater good.

Now retired, Grace Harmon is a past president of the area’s Business and Professional Women’s organization. Active in the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce since 1986, she served as its president in 1999 and was selected as the chamber’s Citizen of the Years award recipient in 2002. She is a graduate of Leadership St. Charles (1990) and Leadership St. Louis (1995), was a member of the Regional Business Council of the RCGA, and she received Rotarian of the Year accolades from the St. Charles Sunrise Rotary Club in the year 2000. She and Ray were honored by the St. Peters Chamber of Commerce and by Youth in Need (1996) for their involvement in activities supporting young people.

Harmon has also been honored with the Athena Leadership Award and the Dove Award for her community service, mentoring others, and supporting the development of women in leadership. A champion of education, she has served a number of years on Lindenwood University’s Board of Directors. She was a charter member of the St. Charles Public Schools Foundation, where she served for 10 years. She participated in career awareness fairs for eighth-graders and the annual Ethics Seminar for high school seniors.

“Young people are the future of St. Charles County,” Harmon said, “and it pleases me to see the busy leaders of institutions and corporations working together to help develop students’ skills and talents.” Harmon credits business organizations like Partners for Progress and people like Randy Shilling, president of Quiligy; James Evans, president of Lindenwood University; and John McGuire, president of St. Charles Community College for their collective contributions to educating the future workforce.

Harmon currently serves on the boards of Partners for Progress, Foundry Art Center, Mosaics Festival for the Arts, and ShowMe Aquatics. She chaired the St. Joseph Health Center Foundation in 1991, and the Harmons’ monetary gift in 1998 enabled the hospital to build a new rehabilitation center for patients suffering from heart and lung conditions. She is the 2007 chair of the St. Joseph Health Center Advisory Board.

Harmon served on the board of Connections for Success, where she supported the needs of women breaking the cycle of poverty to enter the job market. She also joined the Habitat for Humanity Board and is currently a church elder who is active with New Hope Presbyterian Church.

“As a workplace leader and as a community servant, Grace has always strived to lift up people who are less fortunate,” Bartch said. “A person of great compassion and optimism, her style is to contribute and to serve, and she encourages businesses and corporations to do the same.”

Foundation Executive Director Edie Kirk said the gala dinner in Harmon’s honor will be an opportunity to raise funds in support of SCC students while at the same time recognizing Harmon for “a lifetime of compassion, of leading the way, of revitalizing our community, and empowering others to success.” “We are pleased to honor someone who has contributed so much over so many years to the quality of life in this area,” Kirk said.

The theme for the Foundation gala is “Destination Education,” a lively roast and toast in keeping with a passion for travel that Grace and Ray Harmon shared over more than 50 years of marriage. The Harmons’ company captured the baby photo business at nearly all the hospitals in Canada and Australia, and they also set up operations in Paris, France. Their work and their vacations took them to more than 20 countries around the globe, including a balloon trip across the Serenghetti Desert.

Grace and Ray both graduated from St. Charles High School in 1943, and the couple married in 1947. They had two daughters, Jan and Lynn, six grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. The Harmons often took family vacations, which Grace continued to do after Ray’s death in 2005.

But Harmon’s heart remains in St. Charles County. She still sets a major priority on participation in her community. “It’s part of belonging,” she says.