For Harter, Oregon leaves undeniable mark
BARTON, Vt. Years ago, when he was an assistant coach with the Trail Blazers, Dick Harter and his wife, Mary, extended an invitation. If the opportunity ever arises, they told me, come out and visit us at our summer home in Vermont.
Recently, the opportunity arose. A week in Boston offered a day off, and the Harters were at home and willing. So, I turned my rented car north on Interstate 93 for what Dick described as an easy three-hour drive.
Four-and-a-half hours later, I was sitting inside their home, looking down on gorgeous Lake Willoughby. The time discrepancy wasn't all Dick's fault. I had driven through the hardest rain I have experienced on an August day, a torrential downpour that had the car hydroplaning and my wipers furiously working on high nearly the entire route. Plus, I had taken the long way around the lake, which Dick estimates cost me a half-hour (15 minutes max, but who's counting?).
But the drive was worth it, taking me from northern Massachusetts into two states New Hampshire and Vermont I had never visited and only 15 miles from the Canadian border into Quebec. The lush trees, greenery and hillsides of New Hampshire aren't unlike those in Oregon. On Interstate 5, though, I have not once seen a 'moose crossing' sign.
Once in Vermont and on a two-lane highway that winds through the only town of substance in the area, Lyndonville, then on to Barton (more moose crossing signs), I saw why this is the Harters' favorite getaway destination.
There are plenty of open spaces in a state with a population of only about 500,000.
'There are more cows than people in Vermont,' Harter says.
The five-bedroom house, guest quarters, three-car garage and storage shed are shingled and coated with a bright finish that gives the place a built-yesterday look. The interior is spacious and homey, with wood floors and bay windows, and a hot tub sits on a large wood deck, which affords a generous view of the entire lake.
Mementos of Dick Harter's 50-year coaching career, including many from his seven-year stint as head coach at the University of Oregon in the 1970s, fill walls throughout the house.
At the marina below is the Harters' 20-foot Chris-Craft, which he takes out three to four days a week, at least when the weather is willing, onto water that is, he says proudly, 'spring-fed pure.'
Mary, who has a bachelor's degree in interior design, gets credit for a total remodel on the home that her husband originally built in 1976 on land he purchased with his brother, Jack. It's one of the choice spots on the lake, but the Harters picked it for sentimental reasons, too. Dick's family has owned that very lot, along with other property at Lake Willoughby, for nearly 70 years.
Harter's father, Charles, or 'Doc,' as he was known, taught at a prep school in Philadelphia. The Harters would make the 8 1/2-hour drive from Philly each summer for a 2 1/2-month stay. From 1921 until it closed in 1977, Charles and his wife, Ella, ran a summer camp for girls ages 8 to 17 on part of the nearly 500 acres they owned on and around the lake.
It was called Camp Songadeewin, and it was a labor of love for the Harters, who didn't reap a lot of profit financially but enjoyed the serenity and time away from the city.
Work and play
Harter, 72, has spent summers in Barton his entire life. Through his young adult years, he worked in concert with his parents and brother running the camp, year after year. If there's a place where he's comfortable, this is it. He plays golf four or five days a week, takes the boat out regularly, works a few summer basketball camps in the area, reads and spends time with his wife and their two young golden retrievers.
'I consider myself half a Vermonter,' says Harter, wearing a green University of Oregon jacket and a big smile. 'People here still look at me like I'm a flatlander, but I've been paying taxes here for a long time.'
After 20 years in the NBA and five decades in coaching, Harter is still going strong. He recently signed a three-year extension to serve as chief assistant on Jim O'Brien's staff with the Boston Celtics.
'I figure one more gig after this one, and I will be cashed out,' Harter says. Or maybe not. 'I would like to go on forever, but you can't do that, can you?'
The Harters live in a condo in suburban Boston during the NBA season, spend a month at their $1 million home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., after the season, then head to Vermont for the rest of the summer. Mary, a South Salem High and UO graduate who has been Dick's wife for 18 years, partakes in her passion, golf, year-round now. She is a seven-handicapper who has won the local club championship and routinely beats her husband by 10 to 15 strokes.
Handshakes and hellos
Harter still owns 20 acres of land around his home and another 100 acres on the other side of the lake. His father developed and then sold much of the housing on and around the lake.
On the way to Orleans Country Club, a 10-minute drive, he points out spendy lakeside houses that his father sold at too low a price. 'I could have been rich,' he says, chuckling.
Orleans Country Club celebrated its 75th anniversary last month, and Harter has been playing there for about 60 years. 'At the cer-emony, they introduced me as one of the oldest members,' he says. 'It was kind of embarrassing.'
Everyone knows him at the club, and he is greeted like a dignitary as we walk to the first tee for a quick nine-hole game. The monsoon has subsided, and we get only a couple of showers during the round. Dick carries an 18-handicap and a game he describes as 'terrible.' I suggest 'mediocre' is more appropriate, and he nods acknowledgment.
We scarf it around, playing through the scenic layout, described on the scorecard as 'the best little golf club in the world, where good folks get together and enjoy each other.'
Dick gets into trouble only once, knocking his drive out of bounds on the par-4 sixth hole and taking a triple-bogey. On the ninth, I make my putt for a bogey, he misses, and I beat him by a stroke, 44 to 45.
'I don't mind losing to you,' he says in mock disgust, 'but don't go back to Oregon telling everybody you kicked my ass.'
Then it's back to the Harter home for a couple of cocktails, and finally on to dinner at the WilloughVale Inn, a lakeside restaurant once owned by you guessed it the Harters. The seafood is excellent and the mood nostalgic.
'My years at Oregon were some of the best of my life,' he says. 'It was the perfect place to be at that stage of my career. Sometimes I wish I had never left. I made some great friends and coached some great people.'
Portland a mixed bag
Harter's years in Portland, on the staff of P.J. Carlesimo from 1994-97, were tempered by the Blazers' moderate success. The years of J.R. Rider, Rod Strickland, Gary Trent and Dontonio Wingfield, weren't easy for the stern-minded old Marine to take.
'It was wonderful to be in Portland, where my daughter (Kerry) lives and Mary and I have plenty of friends,' he says. 'I enjoyed Portland very much, and I liked P.J., but the teams were not memorable. We almost didn't have a player who wasn't a problem in some way. It was not an easy mix.'
I ask him if coaching is as much fun as it used to be.
'Yes and no,' says Harter, the first head coach of the Charlotte Hornets and an assistant on five NBA teams (Detroit, Portland, Indiana, New York and Boston). 'When you get players who really want to work, it's fun, but that doesn't happen all the time now.
'Now if I were back at Mac Court, and John Wooden or Ralph Miller or Marv Harshman were on the other side, it would probably be the same. That was fun.'
He remains a huge college football fan. His favorite team? The Ducks. He follows them closely, flies to Eugene most years to see a game and is considering a trip to watch the Michigan game next month. He also will go to South Bend to watch Notre Dame with his old Eugene pal, businessman Peter Murphy.
These are good times for Dick Harter. But, really, there never were any bad times. He's one of the lucky ones.