University of Texas
Joseph Perry Harper
November 4, 1909–February 25, 1967
Joseph Perry Harper was born in Mason, Texas, November 4, 1909 to James Clayton and Katie Lee (nee Bevill) Harper. The Harpers, both born in Texas, James in Mason and Katie in Weatherford, were ranchers. Joseph's siblings included Harry Lee (b. 1908), Mary Alice (1911–1914), Edna Mildred (b. 1913) and James Clayton (b. 1915). The four surviving children, with their mother, are shown at right in 1916.
Joseph attended St. Edward's Academy in Austin, Texas, graduating in 1927. He continued his studies at St. Edward's University, graduating with a BS in engineering in 1931. While at St. Edward's he wrote a paper entitled, Origins, Nature and Destiny of the Universe which he presented to the Neo-Scholastic Society. He then moved to the University of Texas, however the Austin City Directory lists him as an instructor at St. Edwards It is likely that he taught some physics at St. Edwards while working on his masters in the University of Texas Physics Department. Joe received an MA in 1932 and a PhD in 1936. His master's thesis was entitled, Roller-disc Type of Harmonic Analyzer; Review of Literature of Harmonic Analysis. The work was likely supervised by Professor S. Leroy Brown who invented and constructed the Harmonic Analyzer. Joseph's dissertation was entitled, Crystal Structure of Sodium Carbonate Monohydrate. Professor Malcolm Colby was the supervisor. He also acknowledged Professor Lucien LaCoste for help with the work.
On June 10, 1939, in Archibald, Pennsylvania, Joseph married Alice Mary Price, a bookkeeper, born in Archibald, PA, January 26, 1903. She was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth White Price. Her father was a miner and her mother a former teacher. Joseph and Alice had two daughters, Mary Suzanne (b. 1942) and Kathryn Elizabeth (b. 1943).
In 1936, Joseph was professor of physics and department head at St. Thomas College in Scranton, PA. The school was run by the Christian Brothers, who renamed it the University of Scranton in 1938. In 1942, the Jesuits took over the operation of the university.
During the WWII, Joseph gave classes in avaition. From 1948 to 1954, he served as chair of the mathematics department while teaching both math and physics courses.
Joseph wrote a book entitled, Elementary Laboratory Physics in 1948. He taught there for 31 years until his untimely death from liver cancer in 1967. He was a much loved and revered teacher.
From Dr. Harper's obituary in Shiner Gazette, Shiner, Texas, Thursday, 16 Mar 1967, From the front page—
"Dr. Harper's Department of Physics received national recognition, ranking in the first five per cent of the colleges which prepare students who later achieve the doctorate degree in physics.
"He was a pioneer in the field of electronics, being one of the first to establish an undergraduate electronics degree program. He directed one of the greatest steps made in the department's academic development by planning and instituting a complete graduate program in physics, which was officially announced by the university two weeks prior to his death.
"Dr. Harper's professional experience included staff physicist at Aberdeen, MD Proving Grounds, and staff engineer and consultant on radiation shielding at Daystrom Industries, Archbald, PA, now Weston Industries.
"He had articles published in the German Crystallography Journal, American Journal of Physics, School Science in Math and numerous other scientific publications. He was a member of numerous academic, professional, civic and religious organizations.
"Surviving are his wife, the former Alice Price of Archbald: two daughters, Mrs. George G. Gulbin Jr. of Scranton and Mrs. J. Brian Foley of Bowie, MD.; three granddaughters; his father James Harper of Menard, Texas; two brothers, James Clayton Harper of Tulsa, OK and Harry Harper of Shiner.
"His mother, Mrs. James Harper nee Beville of Menard, preceded him in death February 23, 1960.
"Funeral services were held Tuesday, February 28, at the Durkan Funeral Home, where the body lay in state, and at 10:30 AM at St. Peter's Cathedral with a concelebrated Mass, the first for the diocese of Scranton. Burial was in the Cathedral cemetery.
"The Very Rev. Aloysius C. Galvin, S.J., President of the University of Scranton, assisted by four other priests from the university, officiated.
"Father Galvin spoke with deep feeling for the professor and paid tribute to one who—"lived for his family and students. By day and night he was at their service—at home, in the classroom, office and laboratory."
Alice Mary Price Harper died March 21, 2000.
John R. Kalafut, Professor Emeritus, Physics/EE has provided information about "my esteemed teacher, colleague and friend." His comments are below:
"Joe designed two nuclear counters in the 50s and 60s, NUCUS1 and NUCUS2 (Nuclear Counter University of Scranton). Hundreds electronics and physics majors (including myself) were involved in either learning about their construction or using them in nuclear physics experiments, mostly single channel gamma ray spectrometry. I’m pretty sure we had to scrap NUCUS1 when we moved from the Harper McGinnis wing of St Thomas Hall to the new Loyola Science Center that houses the Harper McGinnis Physics and Electrical Engineering departments. I insisted that we keep NUCUS2. It was less bulky than NUCUS1 and inoperative because it was based on vacuum tube technology. I ran the Modern Physics Laboratory for 43 years and had a memorial plaque mounted on NUCUS2 that sat next to a modern multi channel gamma ray spectrometer. It was done to remind students that pioneering work of scientists such as Dr. Harper made the new spectrometer possible. I have been retired since 2008 but will see if I can have a photo of NUCUS2 sent to you along with a photo of the new Harper-McGinnis wing in the Loyola Science Center and the portrait that is prominently displayed therein. If interested let me know.
"I always enjoy reliving memories of Joe Harper because of his important influence on my own career. He took me to the first physics meeting where I read my first scientific paper. He hired me in 1965, and I gave the first course in the graduate physics program he initiated in 1967. He was ill at the time, and we have had to close the program eventually. I grieved his untimely death in 1967 and still use his desk chair in my home office.
"One other interesting vignette: His oldest grandson, Joe Gulbin had a TV repair business that he lovingly named Radio-Active Repair in honor of his grandfather."
Acknowledgments: Thanks to M. Suzanne Harper, daughter of Joseph and Alice Harper, for providing additional information and photos. Following in her father's footstep, Suzanne became an academic. She was a prominent English lecturer at Penn State University, Worthington Scranton until she retired.
Joseph Harper's brother James Clayton Harper was also a scientist. His obituary is below:
James Clayton Harper was born September 28, 1914, to James C. and Katie (Bevill) Harper in Menard, Texas. He was the youngest of four children raised on a ranch. Though he lived in Oklahoma over 60 years, he remained a Texan at heart. James Clayton finished high school at the St. Edwards Academy in 1931. He continued his studies at St. Edward s(The 1943 and 1944 Univeristy of Texas yearbook, The Cactus, in a tributes to servicemen, lists James Clayton Harper as having attended during 1937–38.—Mel Oakes) He spent over 50 years as a geophysical engineer, primarily with Geophysical Research Corporation, from which he retired. His profession took him around the world on trips he recalled throughout his life. While at GRC he was instrumental in the development of the electronic pressure gauge, which is still used today. He served his country during WWII as a captain in the Signal Corps in the Pacific theater in Burma. Jim was a longtime member of Christ of King Catholic Church, and recently joined Church of the Madalene. He married Betty (Slaughter) Harper in 1943, and they were married 53 years before Betty's death. Jim devoted the last 18 of those years caring for Betty after she became disabled. He spent the last 12 years of his life happily married to Betty (Fisher) Harper. Jim is survived by: his second wife, Betty; his son, Scott, of Basalt, CO; daughter, Phyllis and her husband Robert Rispoli of Albuquerque, grandson, Christopher Rispoli and great-grandchildren, Mathilde and Calvin Rispoli of Phoenix; daughter, Meg and her husband Curtis Kaiser of Tulsa, and grandchildren, Alex, Danny, Lindsey and Kevin Kaiser of Tulsa; as well as several nieces and a nephew.
Joseph Harper's older brother, Harry Lee Harper, was born June 23, 1907, in Mason, Texas. He graduated in business administration in 1931 from St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. He became a rancher in Menard, Texas. He died November 1, 1991 and is buried in Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Cemetery, Shiner, Lavaca County, Texas, USA
Joseph Harper's sister, Edna Mildred Harper, was born Janurary 17, 1913 in Menard, Texas. Edna married Aloysius G. Phillip (1910–1994) on June 26, 1941, in Cameron, Texas. Edna was a music teacher. She studied at the Chicago Musical College, Southwest Texas State Teachers College and Texas Women's University. She got her undergraduate degree from Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge, LA. A 30-piano festiva , "Cavalcade of 71" was dedicated "to the memory of Edna H. Phillip, of San Bento." She also was awared posthumously the 1971 Valley Music Teacher of the Year honor by the Rio Grande Valley music Teachers Association. For many years Edna was a member of the San Benito Music Club and the Rio Grande Valle Music Teachers Association, holding offices in both organization. She taught piano in her home studio and participated in student activities. She died August 30, 1970, in Cameron, Texas. She was survived by her husband, three daughters, Mrs. Toni Mollat of Chicago, Mrs. Sylvia Camp of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Miss Cathy Phillip of San Benito: two brothers, James C. Harper of Tulsa, OK and Harry Harper of Skinner, TX.
Mary Suzanne Harper, Joe and Alice's daughter, became a prominent English lecturer at Penn State, Worthington Scranton. She provided the following memories of her father.
Notes on Dr. Joseph Perry Harper
Right off before I forget, my dad’s middle name of Perry apparently came from his father’s admiration of Admiral Perry. He was apparently named Joseph after his great-grandfather Harper. There are other Joseph Harpers in the lineage. One story my father used to tell me—and it probably is a story since I haven’t been able to verify it through research—is that the character Joe Harper in Tom Sawyer was named after his great-grandfather. Not exactly named after him but that Twain had met Joseph Harper, who was also a riverboat pilot, and that Twain liked the name. But then my dad did like to tell stories. 😊 One story, though, that all my cousins also heard from their parents is that our great-great-grandfather James C. Harper was a stage coach driver, involved in delivering the mail. The route ran through the ranch and he determined to buy it, which he eventually did. Our parents would take us out to a spot on the ranch where ruts were still evident. Since I’m talking about the family lineage, we have had extensive research done on the family and have discovered that both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s families go back to the 1600s in the United States. Apparently, one of the ancestors was involved in the settlement of Nantucket Island. The Bevill name has been traced back to the 1400s in England and even to the time of William the Conqueror. I figure the name was originally French and was “Beauville,” “beautiful village,” but that’s just conjecture.
Anyway, back to my dad:
Joseph P. Harper was raised on a cattle ranch outside Menard, Texas, a small town in Mason County, Texas. (The population in 2000 was 1653, much fewer now and I’m sure not many more in my dad’s day.) The family had a reunion in San Antonio last May, our third there, and we made an excursion to the ranch, what is left of it. What a shock. The house is currently abandoned with animal droppings throughout and the other buildings ramshackle. The current owner plans to tear it down and build a new house for himself. The ranch is twenty miles from Menard, mostly over still unpaved roads.
My dad and his siblings went to a one-room school house for the first few years of their education. Then, their mother rented an apartment in Menard, and stayed there during the week so the children could attend the Catholic school there. I remember my grandmother as a devote Catholic, and only found out years ago that she was a convert. My memory of my grandfather is that he would drive us to church on Sunday, drop us off, and then pick us up but I probably should verify with my cousins.
When we were at the ranch, sometimes a nun would visit. Her name was Sister Albert and she was my dad’s aunt on his father’s side. She was a sister of the Incarnate Word, housed in San Antonio. Her birth name was Marguerite and the family called her Maggie. I remember wondering how she could stand wearing all the heavy clothes of her habit in 100+ degree temps.
My sister and I met our grandparents and some of our cousins for the first time when I was seven and she was six. We stayed at the ranch for a month. Then we visited a couple more times, with me accompanying my dad to my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary when I was twelve. My grandparents would not fly so they never came to Scranton.
After elementary school, my dad attended St. Edward’s Academy in Austin as a boarder. Then he went on to St. Edward’s University for his bachelor’s degree and the University of Texas for his master’s degree and doctorate. From the humble beginnings of my dad and his siblings, as well as the fact that their dad only had a GED and I don’t think their mother went beyond high school, I am fascinated by the fact that all had at least a college education: his brother Harry had a degree in business administration His sister, Edna, pursued graduate work in music, and his other brother James Clayton, called Clayton, was in a doctoral program in physics at the U. of Texas during 1937–38, but never finished. (My cousin, his daughter, said he was recruited to work in oil fields in Venezuela.)
When my dad accepted the position at St. Thomas College in Scranton, PA, he came sight unseen, knowing no one. One of the profs who worked with him said that he got off the plane wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. (I remember being fascinated by those boots when I was a child, though I never saw him ever wear them and I don’t know what happened to them.)
He met my mother through a friend of hers. My dad was boarding at my mother’s friend’s house. I remember her saying that he found the cold weather here difficult. Once when they were at a football game, they had to go out to the car for him to warm up. My mother said she found him to be a funny little man but realized she loved him when she got a job in Harrisburg and was away from him. They were married on June 10, 1939.
When he was in his thirties, when I was two and my sister was one, he had a total bowel resection. Apparently, he was filled with polyps, which he said he had gotten as a result of drinking bad water in Mexico. They supposed weren’t cancerous. He was operated on at the University of Pennsylvania and was in ICU there for a month. He almost died. He had a bag and supposedly was one of the first people to have the bag reversed. His doctor was a Dr. Ravden (not sure of the spelling) who was Eisenhower’s personal physician.He died when he was fifty-seven years old, of primary liver cancer. He was diagnosed in October, dead by February. Again, he was in the University of Pennsylvania. The surgeon opened him up and closed him. He was full of cancer. His death certificate said he died of lung cancer. There are two theories about what might have caused his death. One is that the polyps were pre-cancerous and they didn’t get it all and it eventually developed into cancer. The other, now believed more likely, is that he died of exposure to radium. The radium was used for treating cancer. My dad kept it at the university and brought itto the hospital when needed. I’ve been told that every person who worked with the radium died of cancer. I remember my dad would bring the radium home in a round metal container with a long handle. He would leave it on the bottom step. We were told not to touch it but, of course, my sister and I had to at least look at it. I remember it was like a silver egg.
The one word everyone used to describe my dad was “gentleman." My oldest son is named after him, being born two years, almost to the day, after my dad died. One of my friends, without knowing my dad, calls my son “Gentleman Joe,” which in a way is pretty funny because, as a child he was a really hellion. But now I’ll grant him that title. 😊 It saddens me that my dad never got to know any of my four children. Joe is my first born and he has inherited my dad’s mechanical abilities. He operates Radioactive Repair (the name inspired by my dad, his namesake). My dad did get to know his first three granddaughters and loved them dearly. When my sister’s fourth daughter was born a few years after my dad died, she was a little premie who looked strikingly like my dad.
I remember my dad as happy and upbeat. He was always whistling and had a whimsical sense of humor. Most people called him Doc. My mother called him the absent-minded professor. He liked to smoke a pipe and a cigar (I loved the pipe—he used to let me clean it—hated the cigar.) He always wore a bow tie and had a mustache his whole life. He said he felt his upper lip was too thick. He liked to read science fiction and he wrote short stories, not science fiction. He liked to listen to classical music and had a pretty good collection. He actually made his own stereo. When I was about twelve, my mother convinced my dad that he needed a hobby to get away from working all the time. He took up golf, joined a country club, and we never saw him on weekends again. 😊 I have happy memories of him taking me golfing with him when I was in college. I didn’t actually play a round but more accompanied him. It was my special time to be with him . Occasionally, he would let me drive, but I chopped up more divots than anything. However, I wasn’t so bad at putting. He used to joke that if we combined his driving with my putting we’d have a great game.
When we were little, my dad would tell my sister and me stories and would sing us to bed at night. Of course he sang “Oh, Susannah” to me. When he went away on conferences he would sometimes find a recording studio and would record a story he had made up. I still have one of those tapes and treasure it. After dinner, he would do “tricks” with us on the living room floor. Sometimes he would bring up to the University where we would have fun jumping from one table to another in the lab. To keep us better occupied, dad would put huge long addition problems on the blackboard and we would have to solve them. I also remember being fascinated with all the gadgets in one of the storage closets. I particularly liked the box of compasses.
One last thing I want to say about him professionally: He was completed devoted to the University of Scranton. He worked in a number of places outside academia, and he could have made a lot more money if he accepted full time offers. He was also approached by Fordham University and other larger schools but he would not leave the University. He truly loved the U and teaching. I can picture him still sitting in the late afternoon in his favorite chair grading papers and tests, taking a little catnap as he did. In the evenings, he would be in a special chair in the den also grading papers. Here’s one humorous story: One day when I was about ten he sat me down, gave me a quiz with ten multiple choice answers and told me to fill it out. I remember he seemed pretty annoyed having apparently just finished grading the quizzes. Of course I knew nothing at all about what was on the quiz. However, he was pleased to go into class the next day and tell them that his ten-year-old daughter through pure guess work had scored higher than most of them on the quiz.
Here is something about my sister and me and our families.
I have an undergraduate and a master’s degree in English from Marywood College (now University) and a reading specialist certification from the University of Scranton. At the time I was in college, the University of Scranton was not co-ed, which is why I went to Marywood. However, I was able to take courses at the U in the summers, which I did. I taught high school English at Scranton Central High School for going on five years until I was pregnant with Joe. I had a number of other teaching and non-teaching jobs until I started teaching English full-time at the Scranton campus of Penn State. I taught there for twenty-six years and am retired going on three years.
I have four children. In addition to Joe, I have two daughters, Jennifer Gulbin, and Kathryn Lea Watson (named for my dad’s mother), and one more son, Michael. Joe has one son, Evan, and a stepson, Tyler Eckert; Kate has a son, Javin Gulbin, and a step-daughter, Zannie Watson. Michael has two sons, Owen and Max.
As to my sister, whose really name is actually Kathryn Elizabeth, named after her two grandmothers, but who was always called Karen, she now uses her actual first name, Kathryn. She attended nursing school but has been doing title searching for many years. She is a very talented, artistic person who makes amazing quilts. She has five children—four girls and one boy, the youngest: Kathryn (Kathy) Foley, Colleen Canovas, Christine Juba, Alicia Foley, and Brian Foley. Colleen has three children: Isabella, Matthew and Nicholas. Chris has four: Andrew, Meghan, Grace and Anna. Brian has two: Jack and Sofia.
One final note of interest: My dad told me once that he attended a conference which Albert Einstein was also attending. He never did meet him, though.