33,900 Days

By | December 29, 2022

I was born on March 25, 1929. Since that day, I have awakened 33,900 mornings, including 23 leap year days. Since I am a “morning” person, on almost all of those days, I have been eager to begin – to study, to work, to play.

In October my kidneys, affected by diabetes, stopped pumping. I went to the hospital – to be told, “an infection with a body temperature of 92 degrees! Whispers didn’t offer a positive prognosis. Time for hospice! A place where most never return from. My primary doctor and my kidney doctor signed off – prescriptions were ordered for sleeping pills, coughing pills, and whatever else that would support the hospice tenets of “keep him comfortable and safe.”

But I’m not ready to go! I’m feeling much better, ignoring all the pills and the predictions. I may even graduate from hospice. Defying the odds once again – as I’ve been doing for most of my 93 years.

About 15 years ago, I even wrote my own obituary – a self-deprecating and somewhat selective collection of my activities over the years. Since then, I decided that I will stay around – maybe forever! So, no need for an obituary – I tore it to pieces and threw it in the trash. In lieu of the obituary, I am busy writing my journey so far.

My Journey So Far –

I was born! The year 1929 has gone down in history for at least two memorable happenings – my birth and the great depression – many believe the two were related! I follow in the steps of many great forbearers, including Adam and Eve, Methuselah, Miguel Cervantes – the creator of my hero (Don Quixote in 1605 A.D.) and certainly, my wonderful mother and father, Eleanor and Leo.

Eleanor was the first feminist, an artist, a creative genius, my kindred spirit. My father, Leo, was a powerful man, the recognized leader in his family and his community – also an artist and fascinated by classical music and reading James Joyce. The best gift from my parents was encouragement, from age 5, for me to make my own decisions, right or wrong and be responsible for the consequences – the credit or the blame. My entire life’s path has been positively affected by this early independence.

High school, at University High, was a mix of academics, football, wrestling, and baseball teams, and numerous leadership opportunities. Success at all of the above led to a good foundation for future success.

Stanford University followed – four years of good grades, good friends, wrestling team, volleyball, good weather all followed – but no progress identifying any areas of interest of some direction for my future. My single most important benefit from my Stanford education was not learned in the classroom – but on the wrestling mat. If you have a goal and want to achieve it, then hard work, many hours of practice – much persistence – then you win most of the time.

After graduating from Stanford, in 1950, I enlisted in the Army for a four-year stint during the Korean War. This was the only period during my entire career when I had an employer – Uncle Sam – and received a regular paycheck!

What to do next? Lots of energy. A real estate career was the answer intertwined with my knack for problem-solving. 68 years later – 2022 – I’m still solving problems. Still mixing financial accountability with creative out-of-the-box thinking. During theses 6+ decades:

  • I’ve served clients, too numerous to mention, with their real estate, buying, selling, and investment needs.
  • Calhoun Square – After almost 5 years of planning, hundreds of protests and meetings, project financing efforts during a period when national interest rates were 18%, and almost unanimous doubts about the project’s likely success, we delivered an immediate success! Charming in-city community shopping center that attracted national attention.

I’ve taken big financial risks and been the developer of:

  • Greenway Gables – The first downtown owner-occupied housing after years of unsuccessful efforts to achieve new housing in the Loring Park neighborhood – failure to secure financing, failure to overcome the age-old negative perception of the area – Greenway Gables brought the first downtown homeowners. Overcoming prevailing doubts about downtown living in Greenway Gables won numerous architectural awards and established the quality level for the entire Loring Park community. Currently more than 50,000 permanent Downtown homeowners have further proven the demand for Downtown living.
  • Sears/Midtown Exchange – In order to prevent the efforts of a Chicago developer to demolish the 2,000,000 sq. ft. Sears Tower on Lake Street, I negotiated a purchase agreement for the gigantic tower and the adjacent 19 acres. When Sears attempted to void the purchase, David took Goliath to court and won. The conclusion of the court suit allowed the purchase to be completed and the Midtown saga moved forward.
  • Residential and commercial projects – Filling a community need. Numerous development projects continued in Minneapolis – the most notable and unique:
    • Townhomes on the former Douglas school site – the first owner-occupied attached townhomes in Minneapolis – a great success.
    • Successful development of the Dunwoody property with Mount Curve Place townhomes – after more than 20 years of controversy.
  • Pro bono activities – In addition to serving clients and the myriad of real estate developments, I consciously made a decision that (in lieu of making financial donations – which I could not afford) I would allocate and donate one third of my time towards assisting projects in Minneapolis. I believe that the city of Minneapolis and the residents of the city have benefited in ways that could not have been imagined. Some examples of my pro bono assistance are:
    • I was a member of the Urban Coalition which was organized as a response to the civil unrest, protest, and fires on Plymouth Avenue in 1968.
    • Located the site, designed, and financed construction of the immensely popular off leash dog park in Loring Park where I also commissioned and financed the public art dog sculpture.
    • In response to public school unrest, I organized and led the creation of Chiron school – an experimental school – the first “charter” school in Minnesota – a very successful endeavor!
    • Participated in, and led, numerous city, Metropolitan Council and state committees focusing on housing issues and urban development.
    • Assisted in the relocation of the Minnesota Orchestra to the present Orchestral Hall site – identifying the site, purchasing it, relocating existing tenants, and assisting in permanent financing.
    • Participated in the design and original construction of the Loring Greenway and then, years later, led its renovation and long-term management.
    • Led relocation of the Berger Fountain to Loring Park in order to facilitate the creation of the Sculpture Garden.
    • Led legislation and set up the first special service district in Minnesota.
    • Advanced Prospect Park/Towerside area in establishment of an innovative new community.
    • Established corporation and led creation and growth of Sholom Alliance – a full-service senior facility – from independent living to hospice.

and the list goes on and on!

I had and have a life outside of my professional career – best described by an Asian text, author unknown, “the master in the art of living makes a little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving to others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”

I am the family patriarch – doing what I want, when I want, and how I want, for well over 90 years. I do have some unofficial rules that guide my behavior:

  1. Be an individual – dare to take risks.
  2. Have a dream and long-term vision.
  3. Dare to begin – and then persist.
  4. Do it right
  5. Have fun along the way and enjoy the challenges
  6. Give of yourself/volunteer.

Otherwise, no limitations!

I’ve been a sports enthusiast – “life is a game” – a competition – and I win most of the time – played football, wrestled, played volleyball – and am the self-anointed world cribbage champion. I’ve written books: Welcome to Wynott – about our resistance to change, Out of my Mind – for my family and friends only – about how to live and how I’ve lived, Been There Done That, Took Notes – a continuous blog about my professional career in Minneapolis, and various papers and stories about dogs, affordable housing, the Loring Greenway, eating habits, etc.

My favorite eating places are the White Castle on Lake Street for the greasy, all-beef, sliders and Manny’s for their spectacular steaks.

Education has been one of my priorities. While I graduated from Stanford University, my most relevant education has been received from the College of Hard Knocks – on the streets and in the trenches. And I led the effort to organize and manage the very successful middle school – Chiron – in Minneapolis. I was also a speaker and instructor on subjects of urban education, housing, urban development, fiscal alternatives for cities etc.

Vacations were few and far between and short! My busy life allowed only short two or three day respite to nearby cities. The family relaxed at two Minnesota lake cabins on Lake Manuela near Hutchinson and Cedar Lake near Aitkin. Lots of fishing, swimming, boating, and eating. I simply enjoyed! First house was on Wentworth and then a five-bedroom brick mansion on Fremont gutted by a fire. Then the Greenway Gables townhome that I built – then a Loring Park condo.

I think I knew all the architects, lawyers, bankers, and politicians in Minneapolis – all of them worked for me, against me, or with me. I was born at Eitel Hospital in Loring Park – went to school in Minneapolis, and have always belonged to Temple Israel on Hennepin Avenue. I haven’t gone very far in my years but very few have done so much – varied, risky, and exciting! My busy life never included golf, memberships at community clubs, long vacations, or being a world traveler. Belonging to numerous Boards of Directors did occupy too much of my time.

A huge factor in the last 70 or so years has been my relationship to Don Quixote De la Mancha. The story, written in 1605 by Miguel Cervantes, depicts my hero in literature as well as my alter ego in every-day living. Don was a crazy, tilting at windmills, dreamer whose singular goal was to achieve the impossible dream. His faithful companion, Sancho Panza, is probably my faithful dog who has always been my companion. The four of us, Don and Sancho, my dog and I, have been tightly tied together. I have many Don Q books, and pictures and 3-D objects and have even traveled to Spain to traverse the path of Don Quixote’s great quest. I fully intend to continue tilting at windmills and seeking the impossible dream. When there are no more windmills it may be time to move on.

So, who am I? I am an old curmudgeon – my hair and hearing almost gone – riding around in my electric (Lamborghini) wheelchair. My plumbing leaks – a three-time cancer survivor – numerous broken bones (some repaired). Above the waist I’m still going 200mph – below the waist only 2 mph. I am extremely self-confident and unabashedly humble. I am more than slightly outspoken. Ethical and honest – people call me a “tough marshmallow.” Hard to anger – I enjoy being the butt of jokes. I never grew up. I’m persistent – some call me stubborn. Definitely a fashion icon. PR person for Minneapolis – seldom allowed outside the city limits – wealthy rich if definition is not ROI – but respect from family and friends.

To be continued…

Maybe not. Don and Sancho and I are going to move on where there are more windmills to tilt. It’s been a wonderful life on this planet, in Minneapolis with the best possible family and friends! I hope that you’ll all say “Bon Voyage” and “Au Revoir” and then celebrate. I know a few who might chime in with “Good Riddance” or “Dump Ray Harris”.

Where should we go Sancho and Don, and when?

Calhoun Square Image Credit: Rosengren, John. “Inventing Uptown.” Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, 12 Dec. 2021, https://mspmag.com/shop-and-style/inventing-uptown/.

4 thoughts on “33,900 Days

  1. Joan Shapiro

    Ray. You have created a life many would envy and all should learn from. It is inspirational. And truthful at the same time. Bravo!! Don Quixote would be so proud to be your guide. Love from thee DC Dog spa. Joan

  2. Tracy Nordstrom

    Thank you, Old Curmudgeon, for your recollections and your always-tilting vision. I have delighted in being part of your dog park, Towerside, and other placemaking efforts.

    “Wynott” was a good read, and nothing beats our conversations in your condo, or at your apartment, as we mused about the many ways Minneapokis could be even better, more connected, and more joyous. I loved how your black lab would race down the hall in your condo building to meet me at the elevator! She matched your energy and spunk. Both very good things…

    And, you gave Sarah to the world and she has carried on (and expanded) your development goals and human ideals. And grandchildren who, I hear, are breaking boundaries and forging new pathways for themselves. Win. Win.

    Here’s to windmills, and shared public spaces; public art and commerce! To big ideas, and small graces, and mostly, to old friends who accrue experience but never really age. ?

  3. Foster Kirk Langsdorf

    Ray thank you for supporting and growing the Minneapolis community. You make the Stanford Cardinal community proud!

  4. Patrick Coyle

    Best thing I’ve read in a long time.If anyone can graduate from hospice it’s Ray Harris. Glad to have shared some of those 33,900 with you, Ray. Sláinte–to you, Sancho, and Don! Patrick Coyle

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