Recognizing the enduring civic spirit of Harold Koon
In the early 1980s, I answered an ad in The News and Courier for a position overseeing the restoration of the Joseph Aiken House at 20 Charlotte Street. I was hired for the position. After about a year I was accepted to graduate school at Clemson University and I was forced to give up the position.
Many years later I discovered that the person who was ultimately chosen to replace me at the Joseph Aiken House was a slight-framed, meticulously organized workaholic, born and raised in Newberry, S.C., by the name of Harold Koon. Overseeing the work at 20 Charlotte Street was Harold’s introduction to Charleston and to the Mazyck Wraggborough neighborhood, where over the next 16 years he became a neighborhood fixture and an indispensable community volunteer.
Whether you knew him from his association with St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Mazyck Wraggborough Neighborhood Association, the Lowcountry Gay and Lesbian Alliance or his military reserve group, everyone knew that if you wanted to get something done, Harold Koon was the guy to call. If you valued your organization’s money you made him treasurer. If you needed to “feed the flock,” he could put something together in a matter of hours that anyone else would still have been planning a week later. I never remember him saying “no” to anyone in need or failing to keep a commitment.
It was not until some time later when I met Harold’s mother that I became aware that it was she who had instilled these values in her only child. Rule No. 1 was “Waste nothing!” and neither one of them could ever have been accused of that. Harold patrolled the streets of Mazyck Wraggborough every day for years cleaning up behind thoughtless people and letting everyone know that someone cared about Mazyck Wraggborough. He never waited for anyone to do whatever was needed ... he just got up and did it. Those involved with Harold in his many ventures usually had a lot of fun being with him and doing whatever it was that was necessary.
Harold suffered a heart attack in early July of 1998 while taking his morning run along East Bay Street and died about a week later. Soon afterwards Mayor Riley initiated the Harold Koon Community Service Award in commemoration of Harold’s many contributions to the City of Charleston and her residents.
In this present age when we place so much emphasis on material things, we should remember that it is service given freely and happily to others that sustains us and binds us together as a community. Harold Koon understood this concept and embraced it with a vigor that is seldom seen today. His presence and example have made a huge difference in our community. Those who have been honored in past years with the award that is given in Harold Koon’s name continue in that spirit and remind us of our moral and civic obligation to serve.
(The city is accepting nominations for the 2014 Harold Koon Award through Dec. 9. Applications can be obtained by calling the city’s neighborhoods office at 973-7249, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.)
Charlie Smith is broker in charge of CSA Real Estate Services Inc. and was a longtime friend of Harold Koon.