Harold Hartger- A Love for People and a Drive for Caring
Harold Hartger lost his father at the tender age of 12. Harold’s son, Dick, and daughter-in-law, Sue, say that event shaped Harold’s love of people and his drive to care for others. “He had to deal with a lot of issues at such a young age,” says Dick. “He supported his mother and, later, put himself through law school at the University of Michigan.”
As a boy, Harold was also encouraged by family friends to attend YMCA camps which helped develop his character and prepare him for service in World War II. “Two days after Pearl Harbor, my Dad and Gerald Ford, who worked in the office next to Dad, went together to sign up for the Navy. While serving as a Plank Officer on the U.S.S. Hancock in the Pacific Theater, Dad was responsible for notifying loved ones when members of his command died at sea. He also established procedures for keeping the 500-pound bombs on the ship from exploding enroute to other aircraft.”
Harold served for five years in the Navy, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander, and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
With previous experience in banking, Harold started a mortgage company with Allen H. Willard in 1949, Hartger & Willard. With his expertise in financing, Harold later became instrumental in the founding of Porter Hills. As a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, he was part of a visionary group that “saw the need that was coming for caring for older adults,” says Sue.
Dick says his dad had a close relationship with Don Porter, another member of the Westminster Church. “The Porters had the land, and Dad was involved through his mortgage company to help with the financing,” says Dick. “They went through some amazingly difficult times – high interest rates and making the economics of the project work.” Eventually, they were able to bring in resources from the Isabella Home in Grand Rapids that was closing, which helped launch Porter Hills.
An avid sailor and photographer, Sue says Harold “was very savvy. He had a lot of charisma and charm, and a deep sense of caring. He had a gift.”
When Harold himself needed care at Porter Hills, he was not happy about the move at first, according to Dick. “He never thought he would live there. It took him a while to get adjusted,” says Dick.
“What was really great, though, was that he ended up with a sense of fraternity there,” says Sue. “He found that he had friends and former colleagues there from the banks he had worked closely with. They started a Lunch Club, which brought him back full circle. It gave him the social outlet he needed.”
Dick believes his dad lived seven years longer than expected because of the care he received at Porter Hills. “He was thrilled to get to meet his grandkids,” says Dick.
Dick’s mother, Marjorie Bjork, also lived at Porter Hills’ Cook Valley Estates and later at the Green House® Homes. An accomplished pianist and music teacher, her Steinway piano is on display at Cook Valley Estates and is used periodically for concerts by musicians from local colleges and universities.
“Porter Hills is one of the first and one of the finest,” says Sue. “It is a leading senior care provider in West Michigan and became a model for other projects. I think Harold would be so excited about things like affordable housing and home health care and the diversity of care that is now provided by UMRC & Porter Hills. He would also be very interested in supporting team members through the Foundation’s Scholarship program, I believe.”