Local Government

New Linn County public health building to be named for Harris family

Supervisors vote to honor Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris and their children

An artist’s rendering of the new Linn County Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building. (contributed)
An artist’s rendering of the new Linn County Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building. (contributed)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It was more than 50 years ago that members of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids voted — 460 to 291 — in favor of selling a church-owned plot to Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris.

The issue was controversial at the time, with the Harrises being black, but Supervisor Stacey Walker compared that 1961 vote to one made Monday, when the Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved naming the county’s future Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building in honor of the Harris family.

Several of the couple’s children attended the meeting.

“Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris were far from second-rate and their resolve helped demonstrate the inherent worth of all people,” said Walker. “Just as we will remember forever the vote that allowed the Harris family to integrate a neighborhood, we also will remember this vote.

“And in our own little way, here at Linn County, we can give a nod to what this family means to us, and they mean everything.”

When Percy Harris, the first black physician in Cedar Rapids, died earlier this year at age 89, Walker and Supervisor Ben Rogers — who, when born, was delivered by Dr. Harris — wanted to find a way to honor the couple and their 12 children. Lileah Harris died in 2014 at age 83.

Walker and Rogers began looking to the future public health building planned to open next year at 1019 Seventh St. SE., which would be combined with the county’s child and youth development services department. The estimated $20 million, 55,000-square-foot building will be a hub for public health and education, but also a community center with an open gym, playground and green space for the neighborhood.

“I don’t know if there will be a better playground in the state of Iowa for kids,” said David Sorg, principal with OPN Architects, the Cedar Rapids firm that designed the new building.

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Coincidentally, the building also will have one dozen conference rooms to be named after each of the Harris’ 12 children — daughters Rebecca, Sarah, Anne and Lileah and sons Grant, Matthew, Mark, Paul, Philip, Peter, David and Bruce.

“This building is a representation of their life’s work and passion, education and health,” Rogers said. “And their lasting legacy is not of this building, but that of their children and their children’s contributing to making our community a better place.

“Their story is equally important.”

Construction on the new building is planned for this summer, with work to be completed next year.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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