Shirley Garrison, Harper Alum and Lifelong Learner

  • Communications
  • May 11, 2017

Shirley Garrison was a college graduate and a recent divorcee when she had an epiphany. "I just thought, 'I'm going to go back to school,'" she says. "I needed to bring my skills up to speed, and what a gift Harper was. Harper gave me that stuff that I needed to say, 'I can accomplish this.'"

Garrison got her bachelor's degree in marketing from the University of Illinois in the 1940s. When she signed up for Harper journalism courses in 1970, she was 40 years old, with three children and a fierce determination to make a life on her own. With other single moms, she became one of the first faces of what would evolve into Harper's Women's Program - putting together a slide presentation on the general concept of women's programming and shopping it around to women's groups for $25 a pop. "I wanted to say, 'Yes, you can do this,'" she says.

Garrison spent two years in Harper's journalism sequence and, propelled by her Harper credits, landed a public relations job with Alexian Brothers Medical Center. She worked her way up to director before switching gears to become a patient representative, advocating for those who needed help - particularly seniors.

After retiring at age 70, she returned to Harper again. This time, she started with piano lessons and took up oil painting, basket weaving and other courses before helping launch the College's Lifelong Learning Institute, playing off her years of patient work and volunteerism at her Arlington Heights church.

"I just want to keep learning, and there are others who want to keep learning, too," Garrison, 81, says. "My job is to inspire people to invest in themselves through education." Today, she leads a course on "Writing Your Life Story" and continues to take a hearty helping of Lifelong Learning Institute courses.  She signed on for 10 of them this fall.

Garrison was the first recipient of the Pelican Award for leadership at Alexian Brothers, now a coveted annual honor. This fall, she received the Dr. Kenneth Hood Award from the Arlington Heights Senior Citizens Commission.

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