Stopping By: A champion for her alma mater, hometown

Debbie Harmon Ferry is 2018’s Woman of the Year

Debbie Harmon FerryReprinted with permission of the News-Register. • By Starla Pointer, April 23, 2018

When Debbie Harmon Ferry leaves her office in Linfield College’s Melrose Hall, she throws her purple coat over her purple dress and grabs her purple umbrella. It’s Wednesday — Wildcat Wednesday — so, of course, she’s wearing the Linfield color; add a red scarf and her outfit would be perfect for the 1990 graduate, director of alumni relations and die-hard supporter.

It’s not likely, though, that anyone would realize it’s Wildcat Wednesday just because of Harmon Ferry’s ensemble, even if she did include red accessories. For her, the colors are not out of the ordinary.

“I have a lot of purple in my wardrobe,” she said. “A lot of purple.”

Harmon Ferry has felt part of Linfield since long before she was old enough to enroll in the college. She was six months old when her parents, Dave and Sharon Hansen, moved to McMinnville so her father could become a business professor there.

He later added dean of students to his title. He was a longtime play-by-play announcer for Wildcat games; he’s now the color announcer.

Her mother spent many years as costumer for the Linfield theater program.

And that meant young Debbie grew up on campus. She knew the layout of buildings when she was still attending Memorial Elementary School — long before she graduated from McMinnville High School in 1986 and matriculated at the college.

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After earning her Linfield degree in 1990, she stayed on as an admissions counselor. She visited high schools telling students about the benefits of attending Linfield.

She switched to the alumni side and became director of alumni and parent relations 20 years ago. In that position, she communicates with graduates, as well as parents of current students, and organizes events and programs for both groups.

For instance, she oversees family weekends and visits from parents on campus. And she plans alumni events all over Oregon and the rest of the country, as well.

“I love to travel,” she said. “I love to see alums on the road.”

She especially enjoys visiting with graduates whom she first met as high school students. “It’s so exciting to see kids when they start and now see how they’re succeeding in life.”

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Harmon Ferry has long been involved in community activities, in addition to those at Linfield.

“I do a lot of volunteering because I was raised with it; Dad was always a big fan of doing volunteer work,” she said.

“At first, I felt I should,” she said, “but now I absolutely enjoy it. When you’re invested in something, the rewards are so great.”

When her son, Jacob Harmon, and her stepdaughter were students at Newby Elementary, for instance, she helped with the school’s Battle of the Books program. She continued in that capacity after they moved on to Duniway Middle School.

“I like kids,” said Harmon Ferry, who has four other stepchildren as well. She also supported BOB because “reading is a good thing. I came to it late, but now I’m a voracious reader, and it’s great to see kids grow up loving to read.”

Her tastes in reading run the gamut, although she focuses mostly on fiction. She recently read the MacReads book, “The Distance Between Us” by Reyna Grande. Another recent read, which she recommends, is Fredrik Backman’s “A Man Called Ove.”

She said she always packs a novel when she travels, which she does frequently for her job. In a strange hotel or an unfamiliar city, she said, “it’s great to have a book as a friend.”

Harmon Ferry served on the Kids on the Block Board. She was involved with KOB’s main fundraiser, the Mayor’s Charity Ball, for years.

She’s on the Ford Family Foundation Board and its scholarship committee. She was on the local board for the United Way a few years ago.

She brings her knowledge of Linfield and her hometown to the board of the McMinnville Downtown Association. “Our downtown is a gem,” she said. “A strong downtown is good for a city.”

Harmon Ferry has been a board member for Gallery Theater for about two decades and currently is serving as president. She has directed numerous plays there, such as “Anne of Avonlea” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and acted in many productions, such as “Steel Magnolias” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which she played Mary Bailey.

Each summer, she takes vacation time from Linfield so she can run Gallery’s children’s theater camp. It’s rewarding to see former campers go on to perform in the community theater’s regular shows, she said.

“I see them find something in themselves: confidence, a love of performance, responsibility …” she said.

Her own involvement with theater goes back to childhood, when her mom was making costumes. “I was raised around theater,” said Harmon Ferry, who began acting at Gallery as a teen.

“I love the teamwork of theater,” she explained. “I love what it does for kids. And I love what it brings to the community — some stories Gallery brings to the stage need to be told; others are just a nice escape.”

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Harmon Ferry’s father, Dave Hansen, was named Man of the Year in 2006 for his work at Linfield and as a McMinnville City Council member.

She’s known many other winners in various categories. Still, she wasn’t at all suspicious when Cassie Sollars, the 2004 Woman of the Year, invited her to lunch and last year’s Woman of the Year, Mary Martin — whom Harmon Ferry sees frequently at First Baptist Church services — showed up as well.

Over tapas at La Rambla, the three women discussed a common interest: books.

After awhile, though, Harmon Ferry said she became curious: What was their real purpose?

“Then they told me,” she said, still shaking her head in surprise.

Discovering she will receive a Distinguished Service Award as Woman of the Year left her “humbled, honored … it was fantastic,” she said.

Now she’s looking forward to attending the DSA banquet with her husband, Dave Ferry, and other family members.

She plans to use her time on the podium to urge others to take part in their community.

“I want people to get involved,” she said. “Volunteering is rewarding in itself.”

She wants to tell them, as well, “how proud I am to be part of Gallery, of Linfield and of the McMinnville community.”

With her community activities, her family and her work, she said, “My life is busy. There’s always something going on. And that’s really fun.”


Debbie Harmon Ferry and Doug Hurl will be honored as the Woman and Man of the Year at this year’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet, scheduled for Monday, May 7.

The 63rd annual awards event will run from 6 to 9 p.m. in the McMinnville Grand Ballroom. News-Register publisher Jeb Bladine, a past Man of the Year winner, will give the keynote address.

Harmon Ferry, neé Hansen, is director of alumni and parent relations at Linfield College.

Hurl is a longtime local business owner. He is president of McMinnville Industrial Promotions.

Other Distinguished Service Awards will be presented to:

* Junior Citizen Jen Feero, part owner of La Bella Casa and a Realtor with Willamette West.

* Outstanding Educator Susanne Sayles, who teaches at McMinnville High School.

* Outstanding Farmers Erica and Josh FitzGerald of FitzGerald Farms, where they raise and train horses.

The Distinguished Service Awards were started in 1955 by the McMinnville Jaycees.

After the Jaycees group folded, a group of past winners took over organizing the event in 2013. Next year, the DSA event will be part of the mission of the newly chartered Odd Fellows Lodge.

Tickets for the May 7 DSA banquet are $40 per person or $320 for a table for eight. Reservations are advised.

For tickets and reservations, e-mail Cassie Sollars, at cassie@oregon.com, or call 971-241-0153.

Payment by credit card is available. Checks can be mailed to McMinnville City Club, P.O. Box 1207, McMinnville OR 97128.