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“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
While this statement is most often credited to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, it’s also something of a personal motto for Dave Harman, the youth and adult sports programming director at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center.
“I’ve been blessed,” says Harman. “Between my baseball career, the YMCA and now, the community center, I’ve always had a career I love.”
Harman, a native of Morgan, Minn., was “one of those lucky people who was talented enough to get a baseball scholarship from the University of New Orleans.”
In fact, he was a good enough pitcher to be drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball draft, in 1983.
“I spent 5½ years in their (the Rangers’) farm system,” Harman says. “I was married for 4½ of those years.”
He says he and his wife, Elizabeth, grew closer through the experience of traveling all over the country as he pursued his Major League pitching dreams, and even though he narrowly missed being called up to play for the Rangers, he did get to do a lot of traveling with Liz.
“I was still under contract with the Rangers when I went to play in Mexico,” he recalls. “We got to see a lot of different places during those years, and it made our relationship stronger.”
“Dave is one heck of an athlete,” says his wife. “That is a story in and of itself, and includes a multitude of accomplishments in a variety of sports over the course of his lifetime.”
“We met on May 30, 1980 in Eau Claire, Wis., right after I graduated high school and after Dave’s freshman year of college,” she continued. “The Eau Claire Cavaliers Baseball Club had recruited him to play summer ball, and I was there visiting friends. He finished his sophomore year at Council Bluffs, Iowa (a well-known junior college for those on the baseball career path), and I spent my freshman year at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in St. Paul, Minn.
“Then we both transferred to the University of New Orleans because he had a full ride to play his junior and senior year of baseball there, and I wanted an adventure! He was drafted by the Texas Rangers after his senior year … and I graduated early in December of that same year so we could get married before spring training 1984. Then baseball life called us here and there, which included a season of winter ball in Cartagena, Colombia, and a season in the Mexican Major Leagues. Our first child was born while in Mexico.”
Liz added that she had “so many stories” from her years as a baseball wife. Now married 35 years, Dave and Liz have two children, Kevin and Annie, who have started families of their own.
Spending time with his kids and grandkids is one of Dave’s true joys in life, along with pursuing his passion for fishing and hunting. He also gets a great deal of joy and satisfaction from his work.
“I found out a long time ago that I really enjoy working with kids, from three years old up through high school and college,” he says. “I just enjoy the job across the board, and I’m very hands-on. I don’t like to delegate a lot.”
“Dave is passionate about everything … his relationships, his favorite pastimes of hunting and fishing, and his work,” says Liz. “He gives 110% — 110% of the time. He is extremely focused, detail oriented and strives for excellence, and I know the programming under his umbrella at the DLCCC has benefited greatly as a result.”
So how did he go from pitching on the mound to coaching and working behind the scenes of so many different sports? After hanging up his glove and cleats for good, Dave went back to school at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where Liz had taken a job as an insurance agent with State Farm.
“I got a degree in corporate exercise management,” says Dave, adding that this was during the height of the trend toward corporations hiring their own exercise specialists to keep their employees fit and healthy.
Unfortunately, he adds, that trend didn’t really survive more than a handful of years — but before he graduated, Dave was able to obtain an internship at the YMCA in Eau Claire, where he had been a member since he and Liz moved to the community.
“They ended up creating a position there for me, working with both youth and adult sports,” Dave says. “That’s how I got my start. I was there for 10-plus years.”
After about a decade in Wisconsin, Liz wanted to be closer to her family, and her parents had retired to the Lakes Area, so she and Dave moved to Detroit Lakes, where she began working as a claims adjuster for MetLife and he found a job with the YMCA in Fargo-Moorhead.
“Dave is first and foremost a family man, which extends to his in-laws, as well,” says Liz. “He is a big guy with a scary looking furrowed brow, but he has a great big heart!”
After getting the job at the YMCA, “I commuted back and forth from Detroit Lakes to Fargo,” Dave says. “I was at Fargo for about 12 years. During the last 6 to 7 years I worked there, I was also the YMCA Camp Director at Camp Cormorant.”
Though he didn’t really mind the commute, Dave says, when there was an opening at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center in early 2013 for a new programming director, he decided to apply for a job that was a little closer to home.
“I’ve been there seven years now,” he says.
Besides running the community center’s summer recreation programs and all the after-school sports activities for kids that start each fall, Dave also runs the adult volleyball and softball leagues. In addition, he is heavily involved with the Detroit Lakes Pickleball program. He plays the game himself whenever he gets a chance.
“It’s a fun and growing sport,” he says. “When they’re done playing outside in the fall, we have four courts at the community center where they play. They’re busy all the time during the winter.”
And when he is a little short on volunteer coaches, he tries his hand at coaching some of the kids at the community center, or Washington Park, or Snappy Park — whether it’s baseball, flag football, basketball, or something else..
“I’m out at the ballpark all the time in the summer, and on the basketball court in the winter,” he says. “I work a lot of Saturdays, but I enjoy it.”
So did the younger generation of Harmans inherit their dad’s love of sports? Basically, yes, Dave says, though Annie gravitated more toward theater and dance in high school, and ended up becoming a journalist in Owatonna, Minn.
Kevin has coached high school baseball in Faribault, Minn., for the past four years; he and his wife Eryn are both teachers and coaches there. They live in nearby Medford.
“We always had the philosophy of letting our kids try whatever they liked to do when they were growing up,” says Dave.
Since coming to live, and eventually work, in Detroit Lakes, Dave says he’s come to appreciate both the town and the people who live, work and play here — especially at the community center, which he says is “a great place to work. My coworkers, the members, and of course the building … it’s a fantastic facility for a community this size, or any size, really.
“The atmosphere, working with kids, creating my own programs … it’s just been a blessing to be able to do that,” he adds.
As for when he and Liz eventually retire, Dave says, they hope to spend more time traveling.
“In fact, we’re heading back to New Orleans soon, to visit some friends,” he says. “It will be fun to go back and see how much has changed … We both love to travel, and we’d love to explore the United States more, as well as Europe.”
But for now, they’re both pretty content to be right where they are.