I first noticed the red blooms. They hugged a small stone along the Galloway Creek Greenway Trail. It’s just north of where the trail goes under the James River Freeway.
I stopped running to read the words: “In loving memory of Sandra Harvill, who found great joy on the beautiful greenway trails.”
I thought to myself: Well, Sandra, we have something in common.
Sandra Kay Harvill, maiden name Lamb, after a life of good health, succumbed to pancreatic cancer in November 2012 at the age of 70.
Her obituary says, in part:
“She didn’t let her illness dictate her life or her unwavering positive attitude. She found more humor in her last three weeks of life than many find in a lifetime.”
She was someone with a deep reservoir of good cheer.
Her daughter Alison Miller tells me she occasionally hears from those who knew her mother. They pause by the memorial stone. Some leave flowers.
On Mother’s Day, Alison says, a friend messaged her: “I stopped by and saw your mom today.”
Sandra Harvill was fit and competitive. She biked on the trail; played tennis; and played golf, mostly at Twin Oaks. She played 36 holes without a cart.
In fact, she witnessed three holes-in-one, according to the sports agate of the Springfield News-Leader, which once chronicled such an achievement.
One of those holes-in-one was by her husband John D. Harvill, who died in 2017 at 84.
She didn’t drink and she didn’t smoke.
The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June 2012, five months before Sandra’s death.
I met Sandra’s two children Friday: Alison, who lives in Springfield, and Nick Harvill, who lives in California, but was in town for the Kickapoo High graduation of Alison’s daughter, Maggie. (Alison is married to Dr. Chris Miller.)
“I was running this morning and I was thinking about her,” Alison tells me. “She was the the best of June Cleaver combined with Betty White.
“She was a 1950s-mother mother. And she was super witty and funny and compassionate.”
She also was a writer of letters.
“She wrote beautiful letters — not just to us. She wrote beautiful letters of condolence. She should have been a reporter. She was so good at asking questions.
“Most people are better talkers than listeners. She was a great listener and just made everyone who came along feel important.”
One of those letters was about moving out of a home where the family had lived for 22 years.
“On the joyous occasion of cleaning the house for the 1,100th and last time, I started remembering with each room enough memories to fill 22 years … I’m leaving the curtains, mini blinds and wallpaper-matched pillows for the Woods, but I’m taking the memories with me.”
It’s funny, Nick says, how you don’t really see your parents clearly in three dimensions until you’ve become an adult.
Only as an adult, Nick tells me, did he fully understand what “chaos” was. He had never experienced it first-hand growing up.
“I had always thought that the Christmas celebrations just happened.”
No, he learned. It was his mother.
As she aged, Sandra transitioned from tennis to golf.
“It was tennis, tennis, tennis — and then golf,” Alison says.
Their mom graduated from North Kansas High School and attended Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State, where she was active in the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority.
She met her husband-to-be, John Dwayne Harvill, at college. They wed June 15, 1962.
A local business that did polygraph testing — commonly called a lie-detector test —closed and John bought it. He went to San Diego for training and returned to Springfield to gauge who likely was lying and who likely was telling the truth.
Both parents were storytellers. Their father favored the oral tradition.
“He came across such an interesting cast of characters,” Alison says.
“If your kid could not find a job you would come to my dad,” Nick says.
It was their father who occasionally brought people home who were “just down on their luck,” he says.
Their father once tried to help a man who had been in prison. He found a job for him to paint a neighbor’s house.
Apparently, the man had not quite overcome his problem with drink.
“He painted the house, but he did it drunk. He even painted over all the windows. And as he drove away he almost ran over the person who lived there.”
They suspect their father had stories with happier Horatio Alger endings.
“But we never heard them because they weren’t funny,” Nick says.
Sandra Harvill wrote this after a chemotherapy session.
“I had a great night’s sleep and am so famished that I have to have a banana before I could fix breakfast. My plan is to get my sorry butt to the Y to walk a little and lift some weights and then on to Ziggies’ for a second breakfast and then to golf!”
The memorial stone was the idea of Rosalie O’Reilly Wooten, a friend of their mother’s.
“It was a perfect tribute to my mom,” Nick says.
If you’ve not been on the Galloway Trail, there are many memorial stone benches along the path. They can be purchased through Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
Sandra Harvill was cremated and the little stone near the 3.4-mile marker is a physical touchstone for her children and for her friends.
It’s where they visit in nature and remember Sandra with a fondness that transcends life’s finale.
“I could not have had a better mom,” Alison says.
Sandra wrote this after a night of baby-sitting Alison’s two girls:
“After much discussion, we went to Ruby Tuesday. We had our usual and then on to bowling. I think I’ve finally found my sport. I had the top score, a 106. Ellie had 99 and Moo 84. Next we went to Braum’s. It was a good night for pick ups. We counted 37! We went on to count deer on the drive home and next was Hanna Montana.”
This is Pokin Around column No. 38.