Tom Harken, business man and nationally-known literacy activist, succumbed to an illness in a Houston hospital on July 10. He was 76.
A Michigan native, Harken and his beloved wife, whom he fondly called Miss Melba, moved to Beaumont, Texas, in 1962. Making their home and raising their family here, they also enjoyed a summer place on Lake Sam Rayburn in Jasper County for many years before moving to Tyler.
An entrepreneur of the highest order and in the strictest sense of the word, with little formal education, Harken established and successfully ran three major businesses along with various subsidiary companies, spanning a half-century.
The cause of literacy was his passion, and even while working as a full-time CEO, Harken traveled all over the country, preaching the importance of education in hundreds of speeches. His powerful motivational talks, delivered nationwide inspired many, either to seek help in learning or to volunteer and assist those desiring to do so.
Thomas Lee "Tom" Harken was born in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on February 10, 1937. Son of Fred and Kathryn Harken, he grew up in Lakeview, Michigan, where his father owned a small grocery store.
Dropping out of school at an early age due to illness, Harken eventually arrived in Beaumont as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Succeeding with the help of Miss Melba, who taught him to read, Harken went into the recreational vehicle business, parlaying this into ownership of 15 Mexican restaurants. Eventually, he sold these and retired in order to promote literacy.
Preceded in death by his parents and sister Kathy Pierce, Tom Harken is survived by his wife, Melba Curtis Harken; sons Tommy and Mark Harken; daughter-in-law Debra Harken; and grandchildren Trace Harken, McKenzie Harken, Terran Harken and Marleigh Harken; and a brother, Ron Harken.
A gathering of family and friends is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, at Claybar Kelley- Watkins Funeral Home, 1155 N. 11th Street, in Beaumont, claybarfuneralhome.com. At 7:00 p.m. we will pause to honor Tom during a special time of remembrance.
Funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, July 19, at Wesley United Methodist Church on Major Drive in Beaumont, and internment at Forest Lawn Cemetery, with a reception to follow at the Beaumont Country Club on Pine Street in Beaumont.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to:Tom and Melba Harken Presidential Scholarship, Lamar University Foundation, P.O. Box 11500, Beaumont, TX 77710; Horatio Alger Association Endowment Fund, 99 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 320, Alexandria, VA 22314; or Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, 516 North Adams Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301.