Life is a journey

1 Jun

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Ike Harris grew up on a soybean and cotton farm near West Memphis, Ark., the son of parents whose schooling ended in the primary grades. His mother wanted the best for her children and insisted they attend a good-quality high school. Ike and a few of his cousins were the first African Americans to attend the formerly all-white school during the desegregation era of the 1960s.

Ike was a “tall, skinny lineman” on his high school football team. He caught the eye of a coach at Iowa State – the only Div. I school to recruit him. Ike came to Iowa State, working harder than he ever dreamed of working, both as an athlete and as a student.

“I was a ghost at Iowa State,” he remembers. “I focused on football and academics and nothing else.”

But it was at Iowa State where he met his life partner: Independence, Iowa, native Charlene Kruempel (’75 textiles and clothing), and it was at Iowa State where he was prepared for a lifetime of success.

After graduation in 1974 with a degree in accounting, Ike played professional football for seven years with the St. Louis Cardinals and New Orleans Saints. He then put his business degree to work at Supervalu and Peat Marwick (now KPMG) before joining the BellSouth Corporation in Atlanta. He eventually became president and CEO of the company. In 2005 he was named one of 75 most powerful African Americans in corporate America by Black Enterprise Magazine.

Ike retired in 2007. He and Charlene now live in Palm Coast, Fla., where life is a little slower.

His life would be easy to summarize with a list of accolades, awards, and achievements. But in reality, he says, it’s not about the success; it’s about the journey. As he sits on his back patio overlooking Florida’s intracoastal waterway, he strokes the fur of a small, white dog on his lap as he reflects on what has been a truly wonderful life.

“The proudest I’ve ever been was the day my son was born,” he said. “I thought I’d never equal that, but then our daughter was born.”

“If I look back at Iowa State, I think about what I achieved in this order: I found a lifelong partner. I received an educational foundation that allowed me to compete with anyone, anywhere. And I had an opportunity to play sports after graduation.”

Ike says he and Charlene, now married 40 years, “have a blast” at anything they do together. They’re always active: exercising, playing golf, traveling, biking, hiking.

“When I think about fun,” he says. “Charlene’s in the middle of it.”

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