A really 'Grand' marshal

Washington's own living legend, Charles "Chuck" Harmon, will return to his hometown this weekend when he will lead the Bicentennial Parade down Main Street as its grand marshal.

Harmon, who makes his home in Cincinnati, where 62 years ago he made national history when he pinch hit for the Cincinnati Reds in a game against the Braves at Milwaukee's County Stadium, becoming the first African American to take the field in Cincinnati Reds history -- seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Parade co-chairperson Don Spillman called him "the most outstanding person to have lived in Washington in the last 100 years," in the way "Harmon has affected Washington, Indiana, and the whole country."

The parade is Saturday at 10 a.m. in Downtown Washington.

Harmon is bringing his whole family back to his hometown for the celebration, including his daughters, Cheryl Harmon (his caretaker) and Charlene Harmon, who lives in Washington, D.C., along with "Chuck" Harmon Jr., also from Cincinnati, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Cheryl Harmon, speaking for her father on Wednesday, said, "I know he will say that it is going to be great to be back home," as she told of their plans for the Saturday event, which includes a street party and vendor fair downtown following the parade.

“It is very fitting that Charlie Harmon will serve as the grand marshal of our Bicentennial Parade. To many people, he represents a time in Washington’s history when baseball was THE sport of choice. And all the ‘firsts’ that Mr. Harmon accomplished in his career are something to celebrate. He is one piece of our city’s history that we need to remember. We welcome him back," Washington Mayor Joe Wellman said.

Spillman, who is also helping co-chair the entire bicentennial celebration, said, "When he was here for the Little League naming we talked with him and his daughter about getting him to come back for the parade. He has a lot of history to connect to Washington, and in his role as a national groundbreaker. There is a lot of history behind him."

At age 92, Harmon will be the grand marshal for the biggest parade the city has seen since the Centennial Parade in 1916, with more than 140 units.

But Harmon didn't only succeed in baseball, he helped lead the Washington Hatchets to back-to-back state championships in 1941 and 1942 for coach Marion Crawley. He was the 10th of 12 Harmon children growing up in Washington, where he was schooled at Dunbar Elementary as an athlete by the legendary basketball player Burl Friddle.

Harmon joined up with his WHS teammate Art Grove, to help lead the University of Toledo basketball team to the championship game of the NIT with an all-freshman squad. Harmon then returned to play for the Rockets after serving three years in the United States Navy, and served as Rockets' co-captain for the 1947-48 and 1948-49 seasons. He also played baseball for Toledo.

"It's great that we can get Charlie Harmon back home as our grand marshal. From an historical perspective, Charlie is one of Washington's greatest athletes and finest gentlemen. With his back-to-back state basketball championships in 1941 and 1942, he had remarkable achievements for our local high school. What an honor it is to have him as part of our bicentennial celebration," Bicentennial co-chair Terri Kelso said.

For its 1950-51 season, the National Basketball Association was integrated, and Harmon tried out for the Boston Celtics, but he was cut along with Isaac "Rabbit" Walthour, another African-American star. Harmon finished that season as a player-coach for Utica in the American Basketball League, where he became one of, if not the first, African-American to coach an integrated professional basketball team.

Interestingly, Harmon's last baseball game was at the site of his first, in County Stadium, on Sept. 15, 1957, where appearing as a pinch runner for the Philadelphia Phillies, he scored his final run on a double play.

Harmon hit .238 in the majors with seven home runs, 59 RBI in 289 games played; then he played in the minors four seasons more for five teams from 1958 to 1961.

Following his playing career he worked as a scout for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, and the Indiana Pacers in basketball. Later he worked as an administrative assistant for the Hamilton County Court System in Cincinnati.

He was married to his wife Daurel "Pearl" Harmon for 62 years, before she died in November 2009, two days before her 83rd birthday.

COMING FRIDAY

Watch the Times Herald on Friday for a Bicentennial Parade line-up and route. The parade is Saturday at 10 a.m. in Downtown Washington.

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