John Wesley Harbeson
September 10, 1884- March 27, 1962
John Wesley Harbeson
Served the Church, June 1, 1919 – September 1, 1919
John Wesley Harbeson was born on September 10, 1884, in Farmington, Iowa, to Wesley A. and Axamira F. Luther Harbeson. Wesley was a blacksmith whose father was born in Ireland. Wesley had enlisted in Company H, Iowa 9th Cavalry Regiment on October 2, 1863. He mustered out on February 3, 1866 at Little Rock, AR. The family moved to Stafford, Kansas where John and his sibling attended school. John enrolled in the University of Kansas and graduated in 1911. He was an accomplished debater and participated in many extracurricular activities.
Following graduation John was appointed school superintendent in Perry, Kansas. He married Lilla May Hay in Lawrence, Kansas on September 15, 1915. The marriage license said he was currently living in Prince’s Bay, NY. The Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York City had a John Harbeson as a member in February 1915. The church was located at Broadway and 56th Street. John was pursuing his MA at Columbia University. He graduated in 1916.
Lilla Hay, John’s wife, was born in Indiana, September 23. 1889. She died in Los Angeles on February 15, 1973. In 1915, John became school superintendent in Tonganoxie, Kansas. While there he lived in the Methodist Parsonage, preaching in addition to his school duties. The newspaper refers to him as Professor Harbeson. In April 1918, the Lawrence Daily Journal announces that John will resign his position and become a pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Kansas City, Kansas. The paper said his departure was received with much regret by patrons of the school.
In January 1919, Harbeson spoke in Topeka on behalf of fundraising for Armenian refugees. His pastorship in Kansas City lasted less than a year.
In June, 1919, the Lawrence Daily Journal wrote, “John W. Harbeson, who has been superintendent of the city schools here for the past few years, has gone to Austin, Texas, to make his future home. Mr. Harbeson has been studying for the ministry and will have charge of a Congregational church at that place.”
Several factor contributed to Harbeson’s short term as pastor. Dr. Briggs, though in very bad health, was still playing an important role, limiting Habeson’s initiatives. Austin church records also reveal that John’s wife was suffering from poor health associated with dental problems. Her inability to assume the role of Pastor’s wife and to carry on the many social and church responsibilities expected of her, apparently resulted in some criticism which Rev. Harbeson felt undeserved. She also felt she was letting the church down. He considered resigning and the church leaders convinced him to change his mind, however he finally decided that he could not carry out his duties in the present atmosphere. He resigned as of September 1, 1919 and the family moved to Chicago, near the university where he could continue his studies in education. He took graduate courses, however he accepted a position with Pasadena High School in 1920. In 1931, John earned a Ph.D from the University of Southern California.
Dr. Harbeson died March 27, 1962. The Pasadena City College yearbook wrote,
‘On March 27,1962, death took one of Pasadena’s most beloved citizens. Dr. John Wesley Harbeson was a man honored and respected by all who knew him.’
‘He has left his mark on Pasadena City College in many ways. When PJC was founded in 1924, Dr. Harbeson became its first dean. In 1927 he accepted the position of principal and served in that capacity until he retired in June,1950.’
‘In addition to being principal, Dr. Harbeson was active in many other fields of educational work. He served on the board of trustees of the American Association of Junior Colleges and was president of the organization in 1942-43. He was first vice-chairman of the American Council on Education.’
‘Dr. Harbeson was the only junior college educator ever to sit on the executive committee of the Department of Higher Education of the National Education Association. He also assisted the government in 1946 as a member of a group studying the United States Armed Forces Institute.’
‘With the late Dr. John A. Sexson, Dr. Harbeson co-authored the book, “The New American College”. In addition he was a regular contributor to the California Journal of Secondary Education and other scholarly publications.’
‘Admiration for Dr. Harbeson showed itself in 1951 when 650 students secured approval of the Board of Education to name PCC’s new library after him.’
‘Active in community life, the educator was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Scottish Rite, the Pasadena University Club, the New Century Club, St. James Methodist Church, and a past member of the Corona Masonic Lodge.’
‘Dr. Harbeson’s influence will remain with PCC in the years to come, for a man of such inspiration will never be forgotten.”
Harbeson Photo Gallery
On September 26, 1948, Pasadena Junior College became Pasadena City College. Dr. John W. Harbeson, speaking from the front steps of the C Building, officially declared the new name at 8:50 a.m. to the large number of students and faculty. As he spoke, a red, white, and blue veil was raised from the facade of the portico to reveal the new name. Popular radio and movie comedian, “Professor” Jerry Colonna, who was appointed the first honorary principal of Pasadena City College, then led a parade of decorated cars to the Pasadena civic center, where the rally continued on the front steps of the city hall with Colonna acting as master of ceremonies.