Kelsie B. Harder

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Kelsie Brown Harder
Born August 23, 1922
Pope, Tennessee
Died April 9, 2007
Potsdam, New York
Nationality American
Fields Onomastician
Institutions Youngstown State University
SUNY Potsdam
Alma mater Vanderbilt University
University of Florida
Known for Place Names of Franklin County, NY: Their origins and History. With Carol Payment Poole. Brushton, NY: TEACH Services, Inc., 2008

Kelsie Brown Harder (August 23, 1922 – April 9, 2007) was an American professor and onomastician (name scholar).

Early years[edit]

Kelsie B. Harder in a family photograph from the early 1930s.

Kelsie Brown Harder was born on August 23, 1922 on a farm in Pope, Tennessee. He is the son of Prince William Harder, a teacher in a one-room school in Perry County, Tennessee.[1] His mother was Ollie Belle McGee. His grandfather was William Henry Harder, a Captain in the Confederate Army and veteran of the American Civil War. In the obituary written by The New York Times reporter Douglas Martin wrote of the young Harder:

"Kelsie, a bright child, was promoted three grades beyond his age in elementary school. When older children bullied him, he refused to go to school for a year, a decision his parents supported. He fished and hunted, telling his family years later that he was such a good shot he considered it a waste of ammunition if he went out with 10 bullets and came back with only 8." [1]

Harder graduated from Cedar Creek Junior High School in 1937 and both the Perry County High School and the Dickinson Business Institute in Nashville, Tennessee in 1939.[2]

Military Service and University Education[edit]

He served in the United States Army stateside during World War II. In 1942, Harder was employed by the U.S. Department of War, in Milan, Tennessee. He was selected to attend the War Department Senior Clerk School in Rock Island, Illinois and was then transferred to Sierra Ordnance Depot in Herlong, California as Chief Teletype Operator and Director of the Message Center. In 1944 he entered the U.S. Army at the Presidio of Monterey, California, and was stationed at Camp Abbot in Bend, Oregon and later at North Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. He was qualified as an expert Rifleman, Personnel Technician, and was discharged in 1946 as a Technical Sergeant and Sergeant Major of the 73rd Engineer Replacement Battalion, 11th Engineer Group, North Fort Lewis, Washington. Harder received the Army Commendation Medal for his stateside service. He returned to Sierra Ordnance Depot as a Cost Accountant and then as Acting Administrative Assistant in the Post Engineers.[2] For a time, he was stationed at Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nevada.

After the war, with the aid of the G.I. Bill of Rights, he attended Vanderbilt University beginning in 1947, following his resignation from the Department of War. He spent his college summers as a self-employed timber contractor. He earned his bachelor's degree of Art in 1950, magna cum laude with a major in English, and minors in Philosophy and Spanish. Harder received an English Scholarship for his graduate studies, and continued in Vanderbilt to earn a Masters in Art with a major in English, and a minor in History. In 1954 he received a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Florida, majoring in English with a minor in Linguistics. On the basis of his academic achievements, he was invited to become member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi, two major honorary societies in the United States at the time. He was also elected to Eta Sigma Phi, the honorary fraternity in the study of Greek and the Classics; and Sigma Delta Pi, the national honorary Spanish society.[2]

Tenure at Youngstown University[edit]

In 1954 he joined the faculty at Youngstown University as an assistant professor and was promoted in 1960 to professor of English. He taught courses in Philosophy, English, Humanities and Business Administration. He began publishing academic articles while a student at the University of Florida and continued to publish widely in American Speech, literature, folklore dialect and onomastics (the study of name origin and their linguistic background). At Youngstown University he served as Chair of the Honors Committee and taught in the honors seminar. He founded and served as adviser of the literary magazine, co-founded the Academic Honors Society, and was active on many major committees. In 1955, the members of the Youngstown Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national Social fraternity, invited him to be their counselor. He served in this capacity until 1964, and then accepted an appointment as governor of the New York District. In 1961-62, he was president of the Ohio State Folklore Society; from 1959 to 1961, he was secretary-treasurer of the Northeastern Ohio College English Group. In 1962, he was awarded a Fulbright Program grant to teach American Literature and linguistics in India at the University of the Punjab and the University of Kurukshetra. While in the subcontinent, he lectured for the United States Information Service. Before returning to the United States in 1963 Harder toured Hong Kong, Manila, Thailand, Singapore, Okinawa, and Taiwan. While in Japan, Harder was among a party that climbed Mount Fuji. In 2001, he was active in initiating a chapter of the fraternity at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He served as the first chair of the Board of Governors for the fraternity.[3]

Tenure at SUNY Potsdam[edit]

In 1964 he accepted the position of Professor of English and Chair of the English and Drama Department at SUNY Potsdam. Soon after his arrival at Potsdam, his biography was listed in the Who's Who in America and was later listed in several national and international biographies. He was considered by many to be an outstanding teacher in writing. He nurtured the talents of younger writers, including the novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle and poet Allen Hoey.[4] Many of his students becoming major writers, including Boyle, Jack DeBellis, Frank Polite, Anthony Zappia, Mark Tursi, Peter Conners, and Anthony Leuzzi, among others. He was also active in modern literary articles, including initiating the Star Lake Writing Workshops, which attracted Krishna Vaid, James Dickey, Anaïs Nin, Paul Engle, Vance Bourjaily and other noted writers as participants. Harder was active in community work, serving as president of the St. Lawrence Historical Society when the Silas Wright House was purchased in Canton. As a member of the Bicentennial Committee in 1976, he delivered speeches and participated in flag presentations. As a member of St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam he twice chaired the religious education committee; served as Lay Chair of the Pastoral Council; as lector, and as Eucharistic minister. He chaired the Adult Education Committee, which initiated the popular Sunday at ten program that featured outstanding religious denominational leaders in the Potsdam community. Active in SUNY academic affairs, he was chair of the Faculty Assembly of Potsdam College and was instituting a new general education program. He also chaired the Conference of SUNY Campus Governance Leaders and later became the first chair of the new Governance Committee of the SUNY Senate. He also served on and chaired the SUNY evaluating committees. In 1989, he was promoted to SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and was also selected for the prestigious SUNY Best Faculty Fellowship Program which also allowed him to visit and teach in the August Martin High School in New York City. He received the SUNY Presidents Award for Scholarship and Creative Endeavor in 1994. In 1995 he chaired and directed the three-day conference on modern fiction held at SUNY Potsdam in honor of Boyle, for being a leading American short story writer and novelist. The conference attracted leading literary figures to the campus including George Plimpton and novelist John Barth.

Kelsie B. Harder in 1984

Academic positions[edit]

He held many academic positions, including two separate terms on the advisory board of American Speech, Primary Reader for SUNY Awards Committee, Consultant on NDEA Program for the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C., Liaison officer of New York Education English Institute, Director of the Place Name Survey of the United States, Member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Geolinguistics, Editor of Names journal, Member of the Executive Committee of the International Linguistics Society, Chair of the Usage Committee of the American Dialect Society, Consultant on Dictionary of American Regional English and provided more than 6,000 entries. Consultant on the proper names in all editions of the Random House Dictionary, and member of the International Committee on Onomastics Sciences. Harder became involved with the American Name Society, beginning by editing publications made by the AMS. He was the American Name Society Executive Secretary and Treasure for a decade, from 1979 to 1989. He became the resident of the American Names Society in 1982. He later served on the ANS Board of Managers from 1984 to 1986.[5] Dr. Harder was often invited by television and radio producers to comment on some aspect of personal and geographic names. He appeared on CNN at the Trade Center in New York City, on The Morning Exchange in Cleveland, on WXYZ (Kelley & Co.), Detroit, and on numerous other radio programs. In 1967 he attended and participated in the tenth International Congress of Linguistics, which was held in Bucharest, Romania, reading a paper, “Linguistics and American Onomastics.” During the conference, he chaired the international meeting on onomastics. In 1972 he was awarded his second Fulbright Professorship to track American literature and linguistics at the university of Łódź, Poland. His daughter Anne was born while in Poland. In 1978 he participated in the 13th International Congress on Onomastic Sciences, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, presenting a paper, “Onomastic Devices in literature, with Emphasis on Works by Thomas Pynchon.” In 1984 he was invited to address the Youngstown University faculty and Honors students on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Honors society there. In 1990, he gave the keynote address at the Library of Congress on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Selection of his published works[edit]

  • John Crowe Ransom as Poet, Economist and Critic (1950)
  • Style and Meaning in the Works of Sir Thomas Urquhart (1954)
  • Charles Dickens Names His Characters (1959)
  • International Dictionary of Place Names: United States and Canada (1976)
  • Names and Their Varieties: A Collection of Essays in Onomastics (1986)
  • A Dictionary of American Proverbs (with Wolfgang Mieder and Stewart Kingsbury, 1991)
  • Claims to Name: Toponyms of St. Lawrence County (with Mary H. Smallman, 1993)
  • Names of Franklin County, New York (with Carol Payment Poole, 2008)[6]

Later years and death[edit]

After his retirement, Harder and his wife Louise traveled extensively throughout the world. They went to Turkey, the Scandinavian countries, St. Petersburg, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, China, Tibet, Fiji, Bali, Australia and New Zealand. As an avid reader, he had in his possession many books, but was not a book collector. Harder was an eclectic person with interests in all learning, but always claimed that his one hobby was the study and teaching of language and literature. Harder was the author of approximately one thousand academic articles, reviews, notes, poems, books, chapters in books and introductions into books. His interests in language is seen in his contributions to the Oxford Dictionary of American Proverbs and the Random House Dictionary. Harder died of congestive heart failure in Potsdam, New York on April 9, 2007. He was eighty-four years old. Surviving Harder was his wife Louise of Potsdam, four sons: Kelsie Terry Harder of Reno, Nevada, Gerald William Harder of Hanford, California, Denis Prince Harder of Norwood, New York and Frank Maron Harder of Hammond, New York; by two daughters, Anne Leslie Bedell of Newton, New Jersey, and Marcia Louise Harder of Washington, D.C.; by a sister, Elsie Carrie Boyd of Linden, Tennessee, and eleven grandchildren.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas (April 22, 2007) "Kelsie B. Harder, Name Expert, Dies at 84"
  2. ^ a b c In Memoriam...Dr. Kelsie Brown Harder
  3. ^ In Memoriam...Dr. Kelsie Brown Harder
  4. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2007.
  5. ^ "Who Was Who in North American Name Study: Kelsie B. Harder, American Name Society"
  6. ^ [ books with Kelsie B. Harder as author]

External links[edit]