By Emily Schmitt Counts ’11
HIS CLIENTS KNOW HIM AS DR. HARRIS. His fans know him as a doctor of rock. Jim Harris ’75 will happily answer to either.
Ten years ago, Harris was one of several Michigan and Indiana doctors who banded together to compete in a battle of the bands fundraiser for St. Joseph Medical Center in South Bend, Ind. They jokingly named themselves Vyagra Falls.
Despite only seven weeks of rehearsal, the quintet pulled out a big win.
“We literally learned six or seven songs as a band,” said Harris, an allergist who sings and plays keyboard. “People liked the band, so we kept playing, and the name stuck.”
Though the fundraiser was intended to be the band’s only performance, the public support pushed the busy docs to continue to pursue their second talent. Ten years later they still take the stage, usually at community fundraisers, playing rock ’n’ roll hits from the ’60s through present day.
Harris and his band mates—who currently include a neurosurgeon, cardiologist, family physician, and pharmaceutical rep—have used their love of music to raise money at more than 60 charity events benefiting everything from research for children’s cancer and heart disease to homeless and women’s shelters and families in need.
“The chemistry was just right for us to become a band and do great things together,” Harris said. “We have helped raise well over $1 million for charity, and we are not done yet.”
Harris also has his own solo act, performing at restaurants, local entertainment venues, senior centers, and retirement homes. Money collected from those gigs also is donated.
His love for music and performing was nurtured through his childhood. His grandmother was a church organist; his father was a barbershop quartet judge. He started playing piano at 8 and learned to play organ when he was 12. He played the organ at a local church through high school.
Despite his longstanding love of music, he also had a strong desire to practice medicine and plenty of role models to show him the way. His father and grandfather were dentists, and his mother was a nurse.
“I just wanted to take care of people and have a career that was both challenging and rewarding,” he said.
He found a way to pursue both passions at Wartburg.
“Wartburg’s size was ideal because it gave me a chance to keep up with and improve my keyboard skills while also preparing for medical school,” he said. “The music and science buildings were right next to each other, so I didn’t have to go far to do them both. It enabled me to take part in things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to at a larger school.”
After graduation, Harris entered medical school at the University of Iowa. His own experience with childhood allergies and asthma led him to pursue a career as an allergist. Today, he lives in South Bend with his wife, Holly, a dermatologist. The couple practice at the
South Bend Clinic, where Harris has served many years in leadership roles, currently as vice president.
While Harris doesn’t intend to quit his day job, he does plan to continue to perform music as a way to raise money for charity.
“I have truly been blessed, to be able to follow my passions for both medicine and music and to have the opportunity to give back in so many ways,” Harris said. “These past 10 years have been the best of my career, and I appreciate my Wartburg years now more than ever.”