Instilled with a good work ethic as a young child, Sue Harkins was introduced to some of life’s finest amenities as a 10-year-old fifth-grader, then met the love of her life just a few years later.
Shortly after birth in Providence, Ky., in 1935, Sue and her family moved far out into the rural countryside of tiny Dawson Springs. “It was a small farm. Daddy gardened and worked in the coal mines, too,” said Sue, 82, a member at American Baptist East. “I helped Mama milk the cows. We had pigs and chickens, well water and a cistern.”
That all changed when Sue started fifth grade. When the family moved into town, she and sister Velma were beyond thrilled.
“We came up through hard times,” Sue said. “When we moved into town, Velma and I were so, so happy; Sis and I went running into the bathroom saying, “Oh my, running water … and a bathtub… and a commode!’ ” It was like they’d hit the lottery.
It was while going to high school that Sue met Harold Harkins. “Even though we went to the same high school, he was five years older,” she said. “Back in those years, when Uncle Sam needed more people, they were drafted.”
Sue and Harold had only been going together for about six months when Uncle Sam’s Army called for Harold’s service. “We communicated by letters every day while he was away, stationed in various places. Then he got permanently assigned to Fort Myer, Va., the post next to Arlington National Cemetery and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” she said.
The couple got engaged during Christmastime of Sue’s senior year. At 17, she graduated in May and married Harold in June.
“We lived in Arlington and had a wonderful landlady,” Sue recalled. “I didn’t know how to cook, so every time I wanted to bake something, my landlady would tell me how and give me the pan to cook it in. Those were good times.”
The good times included going to free newly released movies on Tuesday nights, then dropping by the base’s Green Room.
“One of the men stationed with Harold was Eddie Fisher. He’d be at the Green Room sometimes and would sing. He’d sing, too, when they had boxing matches,” Sue said. “We got to know him back in his early years before he was popular and I got his autograph.”
It was the same Eddie Fisher who went into acting and became the most successful pop singles artist during the first half of the 1950s. Fisher divorced his first wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, to marry her best friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor. He later married singer/actress Connie Stevens. He was the father of late actress Carrie Fisher.
The couple returned to Kentucky when Harold was discharged from the service. “There wasn’t much to do in Kentucky except coal mining,” Sue said. “But my dad and Harold’s dad didn’t want him going into the mines.”
The Harkins moved to Evansville when Harold landed a job at Briggs. But quite literally, he didn’t really fit in.
“We started looking for a place to live and back then, in 1953, there were no apartment complexes,” Sue said. “There were only attic apartments in houses. Harold was tall (6-foot-4) and there weren’t any apartments that he could stand up in. My mother-in-law went looking every day and we ended up buying a trailer, 26 feet including the hitch. Most campers are larger than that.”
In the meantime, Sue said the Briggs and Chrysler plants “seemed to be laying off people more than hiring them.” But during layoffs, Harold didn’t settle for drawing unemployment.
“He didn’t want to do that,” said Sue. “He’d take any kind of a job, even though he made less money than he would by drawing unemployment, just so he could stay busy.”
Harold had yearned to become a barber, so when a barber school opened in Henderson, Ky., he worked night shift and went to school during the day. “He barbered for 13 years but then long hair came in and people weren’t getting haircuts very often,” Sue said.
Harold took a course in real estate. While barbering six days a week, he used his Wednesday day off to work for Kenny Newcomb and get his feet wet in the realty business.
Throughout it all, Sue was employed, including all the way through her high school years. During Harold’s time in the service at Fort Myer, she worked at Hires Turner Glass Company. Immediately upon moving into Evansville, she got a job at Majestic Fabricators for two years before going to work for Whirlpool-Seeger Corporation. When Whirlpool purchased the International Harvester plant, Sue went to work there before moving on to the Servel plant, then going to the Whirlpool plant on Highway 41.
“They started the product planning department and asked me if I’d be secretary to Bob Garvey,” said Sue. “I stayed there for 10 years and only left because I was expecting my first baby. Harold and I had been waiting for 13 long years for that baby.”
There had been complications and a major surgery for Sue before Kimberly was born in March 1965.
“She was a blessing. The doctor (Dr. Edgar Engle) was about as thrilled as we were,” Sue said. “When she was born, he was going down the hall telling everybody to look at his pretty baby. I retired because I didn’t want someone else doing Kim’s first steps, or hearing her first words. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, I was home with her all the time.”
Sue earned her realtors license and went to work with Harold when they bought into Town and Country Realtors in 1972, doing all the books and helping all the real estate agents. But it didn’t quench Sue’s insatiable appetite to work.
“I got into being a military test administrator for the federal government. It was a nice out for me from the realty,” she said. “I moved from the federal building downtown to a reserve center, then to the National Guard Armory. I also gave tests in schools; I really enjoyed the kids and did that for 27 years.”
Sue has gone to church throughout her entire life, beginning at First Baptist Church in Dawson Springs.
“All of my girlfriends went to that church. When the doors were opened, we were there, on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, the Girls Auxiliary, church camp,” Sue said.
She gave her life to Christ during a revival at age 12.
“The Holy Spirit talked to me. It’s like you hear people say, ‘I was called to be a minister’ and then they put it off. All of a sudden, I realized, ‘This is it. I’ve got to do this.’ ”
In Evansville, the Harkins attended Keck Avenue Baptist, Washington Avenue Baptist and First Southern Baptist before becoming members at ABE in 2008. But it wasn’t as if they were strangers at ABE.
“We were familiar with the church because we had friends who came here when it was Eastern Heights,” said Sue. “Every time there was something special going on at Eastern Heights, we were there.”
The Harkins closed their realty office in 2001, but Sue didn’t retire from her government job until 2012 at the age of 77. In 2015, Harold passed away, ending a 63-year marriage.
“Pretty much all my life, 63 years. It was tough, really tough,” said Sue, the tears in her eyes a tell-tale sign of just how much she still misses him. She’s very close to sister Velma (21 months younger than Sue), who lives in Madisonville, Ky. Sue also values the time spent with fellow ABE member Betty Youngs. They’ve been friends since Betty and late husband Henry moved next door to the Harkins in 1956.
“The four of us had a lot of good times together. Henry liked to fish and they’d come visit when we had a place at Lake Barkley,” Sue said. “Betty’s like a sister to me. She helped me raise Kim and I helped her with her son.”
Sue lists John 3:16, Psalm 23 and several passages from Romans among her favorite scriptures. She served as a Pink Lady at Welborn Hospital for many years and has always enjoyed doing volunteer work.
And all the while, from her earliest days in the barn milking cows to the time she currently enjoys each Wednesday morning in a coloring class at ABE, God has motivated Sue and provided her with remarkably excellent health.
“Harold used to always ask me, ‘How come you never get sick?’ I told him I had to stay healthy to take care of him,” said Sue. “It’s been a good life; I’ve been so blessed.”
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