ONALASKA — Richard “Arch” Dean Harris, 68, passed away Friday, May 26, 2017, at home, in the arms of his brother, after a long courageous and exhausting battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Richard, known as Arch to his family and many friends was born Jan. 9, 1949, to Alta Marie and Gordon Harris. He was born in Los Angeles, and moved with his family to Dakota, Minn., and from there settled in La Crosse, when he was in the fourth grade. Arch attended St. James and Aquinas schools and graduated from Logan High School, where he was a student for his senior year.
After some time at UW-L, Arch enlisted in the Navy, where he proudly served his country for six years. Much of that time was spent in Japan. His great joy while there, was the birth of his daughter, Nicole. He and former wife, Patricia Lydon, had many happy days raising their daughter and exploring a new culture during that time.
On returning from Japan, Arch began a career as a locomotive engineer for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Throughout his 35 years of employment at BNSF, Arch was respected by his colleagues for being knowledgeable and conscientious. He loved his chosen line of work and was proud to be part of the brotherhood at BNSF.
Arch had fond memories of his softball days. He enjoyed reminiscing with past teammates and recalling every great game they ever played. He was an excellent team player and loved the guys he played ball with. In his 30s, Arch began to focus more attention on golf. He became passionate about being the best he could be and he spent countless hours perfecting his game, while enjoying the camaraderie of his numerous golf buddies. His competitive spirit was always present, yet it didn’t take away from the feeling of enjoying “the round” and the 19th hole.
In April of 1984, Arch married Catherine Mortenson. Throughout their 33-year marriage they were best friends. Golfing, skiing, boating, vacationing in Florida, and escaping to their beloved cottage “Up-North” were all adventures that defined their time together. In retirement, their home-away-from-home was Marco Island, Fla. It was indeed, a blessing that Arch and Cathy were able to spend January 2017, Marco Island one last time.
The friends Arch gathered along the way were priceless. He had a way of making everyone feel important; his ready joke or helping hand endeared people to him. His life-long friends from the North Side colored his world as did the connections he made at Coulee Golf Bowl, Fox Hollow, West Salem, North Presbyterian Church, Brownsville, The Moorings, and Eagle’s Nest on Marco Island. He felt especially grateful for all the love and concern everyone showed the past 10 years as his disease slowly robbed him of the energy to embrace the activities and friendships that he once enjoyed so much.
In later years, Arch was inspired and had a special connection with Joe Cody, Dominic, and Jan. Their friendship and big hearts allowed Arch to explore one of his greatest passions – that of singing. What a joy to watch them embrace Arch as he joined Joe and Company in singing songs such as Pirate Looks at 40 and City of New Orleans.
Arch loved his brothers and sisters. They are a uniquely close family who touched him with their love, support, and compassion during difficult times. Their fun-loving spirit and numerous good times together was a precious gift. Nothing was better than when “the boys” got together and sang oldies and talked about times gone by. There will be a deep sorrow in their hearts and their lives as they go forward without the earthly presence of Arch.
Although friends and siblings were an important part of Arch’s life, it was his children and grandchildren who were most dear to his heart. He was immensely proud of all three of his children. Arch took great pride in every accomplishment big or small. He boisterously made his presence known at football, basketball, and baseball games and other sporting events. He proudly attended plays, proms, and teacher conferences to show his involvement and support. His gentleness and profound love for his children showed most clearly during each wedding ceremony and the birth of each beautiful grandchild.
His seven amazing grandchildren warmed his heart. Papa’s face would light up the room when he saw any one of them walk in. He loved playing silly games and “getting in trouble” with them so that Nana would have to tell them to settle down. There was no greater joy than for Arch to be surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Many years ago, one of the grandchildren referred to him as “Papa who sings.” The name stuck and it is with a smile that we will all remember wonderful Arch – good friend, fine brother, loyal partner, loving dad, and most of all, “Papa who sings.”
In addition to his wife, Cathy, Arch is survived by his children, Nicole (Alex) Vidal of West Salem, Brandon (Heather) Mortenson of Oregon, Wis., and Kristen (Terry) Schams of Holmen. He is further survived by his seven grandchildren, Kacey and Emily Mortenson, Matilda Vidal, Samuel, Gabriel, Ella and Harper Schams. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Barbara Kraft; and his five siblings, Judy (Duane) Hoff, Randy (Kathy) Harris, Steve (Debbie) Harris, Brian (Karen) Harris and Sherree (Mark) Hess. His large family also includes many nieces and nephews.
Arch is preceded in death by his parents, Marie and Gordon Harris.
A heartfelt thank you is extended to the caring and skillful doctors, nurses, and staff at Gundersen Health System, who provided excellent care during Arch’s long journey through various stages of his cancer. A special acknowledgement and appreciation is sent to Dr. Farnen and Dr. Mueller. It is because of their care that Arch was allowed many quality years of life after his diagnosis.
Arch was a kind and decent man – a true shining star who will be missed beyond measure by all who knew him.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to The Leukemia Lymphoma Society (lls.org), North Presbyterian Church, Gundersen Health System–Hospice, or a charity of donor’s choice.
A memorial service with military honors will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, June 12,at North Presbyterian Church, 1327 N. Salem Road, La Crosse, with the Rev. Scott Skogen officiating. Family and friends may call from 11:30 a.m. until the time of service.