Hundreds remember Fox 4’s Don Harman at Union Station memorial

12/18/2011 1:52 AM

05/16/2014 5:56 PM

At 6 a.m. Saturday, before dawn, the doors to Union Station rattled opened. Grieving people streamed in to say goodbye to someone they’d never met.

But someone so many felt they knew.

The crowds came to honor the memory of Fox 4 meteorologist Don Harman, 41, who committed suicide Nov. 29.

“His death feels like a family member died, and yet I’ve never met him in person,” said Joseph Hostetler, 53, of Kansas City, Kan., who was the first mourner to enter Union Station. “I had to come.”

“It’s kind of hard to deal with,” said his son, Adam Hostetler, 29. “We all cried when we heard. We’re still crying.”

More than 300 people gathered before the memorial service, watching film clips of Harman over the years. Television crews worked around the crowd, unrolling cables, setting up microphones, working to connect the images with audio.

But for at least an hour, there were no familiar voice-overs. Instead, there were only the soft orchestral arrangements of Christmas hymns echoing through Union Station like a movie soundtrack, a solemn accompaniment to a once-vibrant life.

The images flowed one into another. Baby-faced Harman swathed in hockey gear. Harman puffing his cheeks playing a tuba. Harman’s backside as he stands on his head. Harman grinning at the camera, slapping his rump. Harman jumping, falling, tripping, wrestling. Harman showing himself to the world as vulnerable and humble and quick to laugh even if a gag didn’t quite work. Humor seemed to just bubble out of him, unrestrained and pure.

People couldn’t stop looking at the oh-so familiar images, which made them both smile and cry. People murmured, “I remember that!” and “He made me laugh every morning!” A sad gasp went through the hall when a photo appeared of Harman holding his infant daughter, now 2.

Many mourners talked about their own experiences wrestling with despair.

“Hug your family. Never take life for granted. This is such a tragedy, something good will come out of it, even if it’s just that people are talking about depression,” said Linda Gray, 60, who was holding a sign featuring a “flat Donny,” a poster-sized photo of Harman.

Tom and Suzanne Mace brought their three boys, ages 8, 10, and 12. They had met Harman at one of his weather science shows. All three cried when they heard of his death. Their parents thought maybe the boys could learn a life lesson from a man they admired.

“We’ve been talking about how sad a person can get, and how important it is to talk with somebody if you feel that way,” says Suzanne Mace. “There’s always somebody who can help you if you’ll reach out.”

But with his own pain, Harman didn’t reach out, believes Steve Wesko, 48, from Belton. Wesko, now a production assistant at NBC Action News, worked with Harman for several years at Fox 4.

“Whatever it was that Don was going through, I never saw it. We’ve all been asking ourselves, ‘What did we miss? Were there clues?’ We never saw anything. Whatever demons he had are demons we all have to deal with, too.”

At 8 a.m., the crowd hushed. On the little stage before the twinkling lights of Union Station’s Christmas tree, four speakers told their own personal Harman stories to television cameras. The service was broadcast live.

Current and former news anchors told how they first met him. How his mannerisms made them laugh, like hitching up his pants, or teasing with a snarky comment. They told about his caring, his passion for weather science, how he made their television station workplace feel like a family.

The speakers, including morning anchor Mark Alford, shared one theme: Don Harman made a difference in the world. His life, like every person’s life, mattered.

As Alford choked back his grief, bright sunshine streamed through Union Station’s windows. Many of the mourners reached over to their own loved ones, touching a shoulder, grasping a hand.

Everyone connected this day by a weatherman who brightened their mornings.

But who, like a single snowflake, is gone.

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