Followed Footsteps

Written by: 
Adrienne Nettles

From left, John Bowman Harvill Jr. ('55, '57 M.S.), John Bowman Harvill III holding a portrait of his grandfather, John Bowman Harvill Sr. ('30) and John Bowman Harvill IV.(Photo courtesy of the Harvill Family)Four generations of bright and talented Harvill men have attended UNT.

"North Texas is a great school," says 83-year-old John Bowman Harvill Jr. ('55, '57 M.S.), alumnus and former adjunct math professor whose father, son and now grandson have all attended UNT.

John Bowman Harvill IV is a student in UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a two-year residency program for gifted high school students with an interest in math and science.

"It is pretty neat that I'm going here," says Harvill IV, who will graduate in May. "My dad brought me to UNT when I was younger to show me where my grandpa worked. I also love math, and TAMS was a way to explore it more in depth."

The first of the Harvills to attend UNT were Marion Madge Donnelly Harvill and John Bowman Harvill Sr. ('30), who was the oldest of 10 children. From Forestburg in Montague County in the late 1920s, he took summer courses to earn his degree while working in the winter as a school teacher.

"My father became a certified teacher of a rural one-room schools and he wanted a college degree," Harvill Jr. says.

His father earned a bachelor's degree in political science from North Texas in 1930, going on to earn a master's degree in education from Southern Methodist University. He became the school superintendent of Deport and later worked as an attorney in Paris, Texas.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Harvill Jr. studied at North Texas from 1949 to 1950 before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1951. When the Korean War ended, Harvill set his sights on returning to Denton to finish his UNT degree.

"I joyfully returned to North Texas in 1954 and used the G.I. Bill to complete my degrees in mathematics," says Harvill, who rented a room from a family living on Hickory Street to pursue his studies.

He remembers dedicated professors Herbert Parrish, J.V. Cook and George Coop, and says they helped make UNT's math department highly reputable.

"After I graduated, I was hired on the spot during my first job interview with Texas Instruments," he says adding that he also served as an adjunct professor in the math department, teaching digital computer programming and numerical analysis classes for four years.

"Being at North Texas was one of the best times of my life," he says. "I loved that my parents had the same experiences."

Harvill was thrilled when his son, John Bowman Harvill III, began taking classes at UNT during his junior year at Denton High School in the early 1980s. Harvill III says at that time high school students with a high enough SAT score could take college courses, so he signed up for math and computer courses at UNT. The courses helped hone his interests, says Harvill III, who is a database administrator at Dell computers in Austin.

In 2013, the Harvill family's ties to the rigorous education at UNT came full circle when Harvill IV enrolled in TAMS.

Harvill Jr. later in his career taught at SMU and Lamar University, but says his fondest teaching memories are at UNT.

"UNT was full of great teachers and mathematicians," he says.