Tri-Valley Hero: Gary and Nancy Harrington, enriching their hometown | News | |


Tri-Valley Hero: Gary and Nancy Harrington, enriching their hometown

Pleasanton couple win Community Spirit award for promoting arts, education

Gary and Nancy Harrington pose with "Monet" statue outside the Firehouse Arts Center, one of the many public art pieces the Pleasanton couple have helped bring to their hometown. (Photo by Jeb Bing)

Nancy and Gary Harrington have been adding a splash of color to Pleasanton for many years with their support of local art, including leading guided public art walks downtown.

In addition to art projects supported through their Harrington Art Partnership, the educators and philanthropists also launched the campaign to build a Veterans Memorial at Pioneer Cemetery that was dedicated three years ago this month.

They are currently helping the East Bay Regional Park District with the creation of an open-air interpretive pavilion at Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area in Pleasanton. When the project is completed, visitors will learn about the park's history and wildlife while exploring the area.

Retired educators with lifelong passions for the arts, the Harringtons are in the forefront of advocates and contributors for public art in Pleasanton, where they've lived since 1972. They purchased and gave to the city the lifelike bronze sculpture of "Poppies," the tired-looking veteran who sits in front of the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street.

Later, when the Firehouse Arts Center was being built, Andy Jorgensen, manager of the city's civic arts program (now retired), asked the Harringtons to help add a marquee in front of the Firehouse.

They said why not two -- one in front and the Monet with brush in hand bronze statue facing an easel facing Lions Wayside Park in the back. The front marquee, designed by British artist Martin Donlan, which they helped arrange, provides unique and colorful identities to the Firehouse Center, which opened in September 2010.

Also, as a tribute to their philanthropy, the Harrington Art Gallery in the center's main lobby was named for them.

The Harringtons are neither wealthy artists, though their years as teachers, school administrators and successful investors have given each of them sustainable incomes in retirement that allow the couple to pursue their interest in art -- and in Pleasanton.

"We love this city," Nancy Harrington said in a previous interview. "It's a beautiful place with a gorgeous downtown and we want to do our part in seeing it thrive."

From "Poppies" to "Monet" to the Firehouse to the Veterans Memorial, the Harringtons just keep giving and encouraging others to contribute to the arts.

Their H.A.P.P.Y. (for Harrington Art Partnership Piece for You), is a public art partnership that's intended to bring more contributions and more public art. The Harringtons have been matching every donation of at least $3,500 up to $40,000 a year with donors given the chance to select an art piece from a brochure they have prepared.

Although they support public art throughout the city, and in Livermore, their focus has been on Pleasanton's downtown area. In January 2011, they held a Saturday Public Art Walk. That's when they met fellow community activists Ron Sutton and Jerri Long, who asked if this walk could be a part of their "Walk for Wellness" program. The Harringtons said sure, and this has been ongoing ever since.

In September 2011, they enrolled in the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce's Leadership class, which for them opened a whole new door to the Pleasanton community.

"Our lives changed considerably for us through the Leadership program and as we met Julie Lewis, Bob Shapiro and many other members of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, which we joined," Nancy Harrington said. "We now host the Rotary's partnership with the Open Heart Kitchen luncheon at the Pleasanton Senior Center."

She added, "Before joining Rotary, during our travels around the country we had come across several Rotary Parks and quite a few veterans' memorials, little realizing these concepts would play a major part in our future lives."

She encouraged the Rotarians to create a Rotary Park, which was dedicated in 2015 next to the Main Street bridge in time to honor the 50th anniversary of Rotary in Pleasanton and the city's three Rotary Clubs active today.

Nancy Harrington grew up near Portland, the daughter of a Swedish immigrant father and businessman who reluctantly agreed to pay for her college education but then expected her to find a job. She did, teaching first in public schools near Portland and for 37 years after that, retiring in 2003 as the principal of Durham Elementary School in Fremont.

Gary Harrington grew up in Los Angeles, earning a master's degree from UC Riverside and then joining Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as a manager. He met Nancy after being transferred to Portland, and the two moved to the Bay Area when he was transferred here. They first moved to San Leandro and then to Pleasanton.

Quitting his job at MetLife, Gary Harrington taught in Livermore public schools for 11 years and then for 14 years at San Leandro High School before he retired.

World travelers from the start, both enjoyed art and spent what time they could visiting art galleries, even stopping to watch street artists at their easels.

When they found the bronze sculpture of Claude Monet at work, they jumped at the chance to buy it, bringing it home to Pleasanton almost three years before the Firehouse Arts Center was built.

"We knew that this was something special that children would enjoy, too," Gary Harrington told the Weekly in an earlier story. "Many people have admired Monet's work, but here was a chance to see a sculpture of him at his easel. Now that we've found a place for him outside the Firehouse, the whole community can see this great artist at work."

The Harringtons' work to advocate for the arts continues. They recently partnered with the city of Pleasanton and Kaiser Permanente to bring a new mural, called "Live Well, Be Well," at the medical facility's North building. Their book, "Pleasanton's Public Art," is now on sale at the Museum on Main.

"Our latest two multi-year projects are an Interpretive Learning Pavilion at Shadow Cliffs and a Cultural Arts Park and Trail for Pleasanton," Nancy Harrington said in accepting the Tri-Valley Heroes Jeb Bing Community Spirit Award, which is named for this writer as the Weekly's editor emeritus.

She credited Anne Kassebaum. chief of interpretive and recreation services at East Bay Parks, and Juliana Schirmer of the Parks Foundation with helping to raise over $900,000 for the pavilion.

"After about four years, we just found out that ground breaking is set for January 2020 with completion expected during the coming year," Nancy Harrington said. "We're very excited!"

Hero FYI

* World travelers from the start, the Harringtons spend much of their time searching for sculptures, paintings and other art work that will catch the eye and benefit the Pleasanton community.

* Retired educators with lifelong passions for the arts, the Harringtons are now in the forefront of advocates and contributors for public art in Pleasanton, where they've lived since 1972.

* Their work continues with the creation of an open-air interpretive pavilion at Shadow Cliffs opening in January.

* Expanding into Livermore, the Harringtons donated the "Jessie" bronze sculpture now installed at the walkway opposite Cream ice cream store and new Towne Center Books on Railroad Avenue in Livermore.

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