In January 1982, Mike Harris ’85 and his future wife, Betsy Turnmire Harris ’85, were beginning their first spring semester as freshmen at Pfeiffer College. A recent storm had dropped so much snow on the Misenheimer campus that the school cancelled classes for a time. Enjoying the winter wonderland, several students hopped on pilfered cafeteria trays and sledded down a hill behind Ervin Hall. Betsy joined in the fun immediately.
After a while, though, she noticed that Mike was not participating. This simply won’t do, she thought. The two had talked during informal student gatherings before Christmas break, and Betsy had grown interested enough in Mike to send him a Christmas card. He’d received it over the holidays at his home in Salisbury, N.C. Sending cards and notes via snail mail was still commonplace in those pre-internet and pre-cellphone days.
Because of the storm, dorm visitation rules had become relaxed, so Betsy left the sledding and marched into Kluftinger Hall, Mike’s residence, where she found him playing cards in a hallway with his buddies. She persuaded him to join in the sledding with her.
An afternoon of sledding soon turned into a walk together around Gibson Lake, and a first date of several hours spontaneously developed. Within a couple of weeks, they were going steady – for good.
“We never considered dating other people after that,” Mike said.
Mike and Betsy became inseparable during the rest of their Pfeiffer tenure. They studied together, and they accompanied each other to just about every extracurricular activity Pfeiffer offered, including games, dances, festivals, concerts and screenings of movies on campus.
Betsy, an alto in Pfeiffer’s touring Concert Choir, practiced with that group each evening in Henry Pfeiffer Chapel; when rehearsals ended, Mike would greet her as they hurried from the chapel to dinner, just minutes before the dining hall closed.
With the blessing of their respective parents, Mike and Betsy were married on May 25, 1985, in Henry Pfeiffer Chapel – about a year after becoming engaged and just days after walking together in commencement.
“We saw no reason to waste any time between commencement and marriage,” Betsy said. “Mike and I had been together for nearly four years. And, besides, he had won my heart with his words.”
The words in question were written down – which wasn’t really surprising, since Mike majored in English literature and creative writing. He and Betsy, an education major from Kannapolis, N.C. who minored in music and language arts, exchanged everything from news to love letters in voluminous notebooks.
“The poem remains a sweet memory to me,” Betsy said. “It is very special to me – simply because no one had ever written me a poem.”
During a recent telephone interview, Betsy read the poem aloud, having retrieved a picture of it from the photo album on her smartphone. It has lived there for some time along with thousands of other pictures that have made Betsy a self-described “walking catalogue of memories.”
Mike and Betsy can look back on many wonderful memories, not only as spouses but also as parents of three children, as professionals and as servant leaders.
After dabbling in teaching at a community college, Mike entered the insurance field. He’s now a State Farm insurance agent in Mooresville, N.C.
Betsy is a recently retired educator. Between 2004 and 2007, she taught and served as the Headmistress of now-closed Mooresville Christian Academy (MCA). All three of the Harris children – Mike, Marlee, and Mary Katherine – went to MCA, where they each attended a class taught by Betsy.
“I tell people that I’m the only parent who went to school with their children every single day of high school,” Betsy said. “I knew exactly what was going on every single day.”
MCA’s Monday-Thursday schedule provided golden opportunities for Mike and Betsy’s children to develop the artistic gifts in music and theater that they inherited from their parents. Mike and Betsy remember chauffeuring their children to rehearsals, lessons and, in Mary Katherine’s case, sports.
The Harris children were following in their parents’ pretty big musical footsteps. Betsy sang alto in Pfeiffer’s touring Concert Choir, and Mike, in addition to playing electric guitar in a Pfeiffer stage band, played mandolin well enough to serve as the last-minute substitute mandolinist in the bluegrass band of the late Dr. Wade Macey when it performed at Pfeiffer.
Macey, a talented banjo picker, also taught mathematics at Pfeiffer from 1967 to 1982. Remarkably, Mike filled in without rehearsing with Macey or his band.
Young Mike, in addition to playing the trumpet in youth orchestras, also mastered the guitar. After studying in Belmont University’s famed music program, he became a Nashville-based touring and session guitarist. In 2019, he played on tour with Chris Stapleton, the famed singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer.
Before working as an insurance agent in Mooresville, State Farm moved Mike from position to position around the state. At each stop, Marlee sang in a different children’s choir nearby, including the Charlotte Children’s Choir, which at the time was directed by Pfeiffer alumna Sandy Holland ’86.
Between 2008 and 2012, Betsy pursued a different career path, as the Director of The Father’s Heart Adoption and Foster Care Ministry of Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, N.C. Betsy and Mike also fostered a set of siblings on two separate occasions during her directorship. Mike called that a “great experience” – and praised his wife for making it and other great things happen for children.
“She has poured her life into not only our kids, but also a lot of other people’s kids,” he said. “So, it’s just been neat to be able to observe that and see how wonderfully loved and respected she is by everybody.”
Mike is planning to join Betsy in retirement in about four or five years. The couple is looking forward to this next chapter, during which they will live in both Mooresville and at a second home in Tennessee. There will be more time for friends and family and, perhaps, more time to rediscover musical gifts.
And there will be more than enough time to relive their Pfeiffer memories during long walks and snow days.