When E.J. Harrison turned to hauling trash to earn money for his family in the middle of the Great Depression, he already had a strong partner — his wife Myra.
The daughter of Francisca Moraga Velarde and Elias Velarde, Myra had deep roots in the Ventura community. Her ancestors included the founders of the San Buenaventura Mission.
In the earliest days of the company, founded in 1932, she juggled taking care of her 1-year-old daughter with duties as dispatcher and bookkeeper. The fledgling enterprise charged 75 cents per load taken to the local dump.
Today Harrison Industries counts roughly $100 million in revenue and has 400 employees. One of the largest privately-owned companies in the region, it serves 90,000 customers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and is well known for its philanthropy and community involvement.
The architect of the business side of the company was Myra Harrison, who died at home in Ventura on May 25 at age 99. “She was a great wife, a great mom and a great businesswoman,” said her son, Ralph Harrison.
Ralph Harrison, company president, is the oldest of the three brothers who run Harrison Industries, formerly known as E.J. Harrison & Sons.
Jim and Myron, born several years after Ralph and his sister, are vice presidents of the company. Its operations include Gold Cost Recycling and a substantial investment in Oxnard-based Agromin, a green waste recycling enterprise.
Myra and E.J.’s daughter, Janet Seamands, lives in Wyoming with her family.
Ralph Harrison recalled that his dad had a phone extension set up in the backyard so that Myra could play with her children without missing one of the regular phone calls from E.J., who would stop at a pay phone and call in at a predetermined time to see if there were any special pickups. The Harrison’s enterprise was run largely from this original “home office” for years, with Myra keeping the books. Finally the business grew so much that an outside office was needed.
E.J. Harrison died in 1991, but his widow remained actively engaged in the management of the company’s finances and operations. While her three sons, Ralph, Jim and Myron, have overseen day-to-day management of the company for years, they also have begun adding succeeding generations of family members into the business.
Well known for her charitable work, Myra Harrison was named 2003 Philanthropist of the Year for Ventura County by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Under her leadership, the company supported a number of nonprofits in the region, including Boys & Girls Clubs in several cities, Ojai Music Festival and Casa Pacifica. A new Boys & Girls Club of Ventura youth center in Saticoy is named for the Harrison family, who helped pay for construction.
Whether it was a major donation or a major purchase, the key decisions were made at board meetings held on Sunday mornings at the Harrisons’ home, Jim Harrison recalled. Myra typically cooked, but at one point she complained that she was “tired of fixing breakfast.”
“We took a vote and she was voted down,” recalled Jim. The breakfast meeting tradition continued.
Harrison Industries has been a pioneer in environmental stewardship and was an early adopter of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas for powering its trucks. Its Gold Coast Recycling center in Ventura is one of the largest facilities of its kind along the California coast, and its Agromin venture recycles green waste into mulch and is pursuing a waste-to-methane project in Ventura County.