15 Sep 2014
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1st Female County Board Member and Former Circuit Clerk Dead at 95

Helen Harshbarger, of Plainfield, also worked as a teacher, model, tax accountant and co-founder of the United Way of Will County and the JJC Foundation.

1st Female County Board Member and Former Circuit Clerk Dead at 95 1st Female County Board Member and Former Circuit Clerk Dead at 95

Helen Harshbarger packed a lot of living into the 95 years she had on this planet.

Her list of careers and accomplishments -- teacher, model, accountant, college instructor, politician, school board member, college board member, county board member, circuit clerk, charitable organization founder, wife, mother -- is as exhaustive as it is exhausting.

For most, she is probably best known as the first female member of the Will County Board, a position she held from 1974 to 1982, and as the Will County circuit clerk from 1988 to 1996.

Harshbarger lived life on her own terms right up until the end, son Warren Harshbarger, of Lake Forest, said. When she died Monday, she was surrounded by family in the Plainfield home she couldn't bear to leave, he said.

Harshbarger described his mother as an intellectual, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1937, but also as an outgoing personality with a natural affinity for elective office, Harshbarger said.

"She loved being the center of attention," he said. "She loved running for political office, she loved being involved in politics."

A Chicago native, Harshbarger moved to Plainfield in 1938 to take a teaching job at Plainfield High School, where she taught English and language arts for many years.

"There were two things she always said she would never do: She never wanted to live (forever) in Plainfield or to marry a farmer. She ended up doing both," Harshbarger said with a laugh.

She wed Howard Harshbarger in 1941, and the couple had four children, three sons and a daughter.

"She and my dad were the complete opposite of each other, but it worked for them," Harshbarger said.

For all of Howard Harshbarger's support of his wife's professional and political ambitions, however, he remained an old-fashioned guy about some things, Harshbarger said. It's one of the reasons that he, the couple's second son, ended up learning to cook when his mother started her home-based accounting business in 1946, he said.

"She would go into her office to work and would forget about what time it was. Sometimes she'd work all night," he said.

"Being of that (older) generation, (my father) would never have thought about going into the kitchen and preparing a meal. That was when I started making deserts for the family, and then eventually dinner."

Harshbarger said his mother was also a part-time model, doing work for a Joliet-based department store, and taught tax accounting at several colleges, including Joliet Junior College.

Helen Harshbarger's political career began in 1961, when she was elected to the Plainfield School Board. From there, she moved to the Joliet Junior College Board and then on to the Will County Board, where she represented District 5. She was a member of the Senior Services Center Board for more than 20 years and helped found and was past-president of the United Way of Will County and Joliet Junior College Foundation.

Harshbarger's funeral will be held at noon Saturday at the Overman-Jones Funeral Home in Plainfield. Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. until the start of the funeral on Saturday. Interment will follow at Plainfield Township Cemetery.

Memorials may be made to Joliet Junior College, Senior Services Center of Joliet, the Will County Farm Bureau or Joliet Area Community Hospice.

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