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posted: 4/2/2010 12:01 AM

Legendary Arlington Hts. pharmacy loses matriarch

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  • Marian Harris

    Marian Harris


Marian Harris practiced pharmacy for only 2½ years, but her imprint is all over the family business, Harris Pharmacy in Arlington Heights.

Mrs. Harris opened Harris Pharmacy with her husband, George, in downtown Arlington Heights in 1950. She passed away Tuesday at 88.

"Originally, she had wanted to go to design school," says the youngest of her three sons, Bill. "She was a tremendous artist and had developed her portfolio during high school, but in the end she went to pharmacy school instead."

That decision altered the course of her life, as she would meet her future husband in chemistry class at the University of Illinois.

Both were children of pharmacists and had grown up in the business. In the case of George Harris, his father and grandfather had been pharmacists at the Harris Pharmacy that dated back to 1887 on the west side of Chicago.

Mrs. Harris' father ran Dulla Pharmacy in West suburban Cicero, catering to the Bohemian families that lived in the community.

When Mrs. Harris graduated in 1944, she was one of only six graduating females in the University of Illinois School of Pharmacy.

Her future husband, meantime left school to serve in the Navy during World War II. He saw action in the Atlantic before serving in the Philippines.

"I think all the destruction he saw in cities during the war made him want to move to a small town," his son Bill adds.

They married during Mr. Harris' service, while he was stationed in Miami. When the war ended, Mr. Harris returned to school to earn his pharmacy degree and in the late 1940s, they began to pursue their dream of opening a store of their own.

The way their son tells it, the couple was driving down Northwest Highway heading toward Crystal Lake, when they stopped for gas in Arlington Heights. The attendant boasted about the village and then pointed to a vacant building at Vail Avenue and Davis Street.

They opened Harris Pharmacy there in 1950, when the village consisted of 8,000 people. They were the third drugstore in the area, and they offered a soda fountain and small gifts. The couple ran it together until their children began arriving.

"My mother worked tirelessly with my dad to get the business going," says their middle son, Tom, a Palatine dentist. "I always was proud of how she could balance the professional part of her life with the homemaking side."

In 1955, Mr. Harris secured a spot in the new Dunton Court shopping center, leading him to run both pharmacies until 1960, when he closed the original.

"My mother did a lot of behind the scenes work and helped support my father during his years as president of the Illinois Pharmacist Association and with the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy," Bill Harris says.

She also filled in as needed in the store, doing everything from gift purchasing to bookkeeping. Mrs. Harris kept up her active pharmacist's license, fulfilling the state-required continuing education courses until just two years ago, at the age of 86.

Mrs. Harris is survived by another son, Greg, as well as nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. today, Friday, at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, 308 N. Dunton St.