Elaine Harbison, who worked in learning services at Illinois Public Media’s WILL-TV in Urbana for 20 years, died June 19 at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana of heart failure caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 83.
Harbison entered public broadcasting as an intern at WNED-TV in Buffalo, N.Y., after earning a professional bachelor’s degree in fine arts (1977) from the State University of New York-Empire State College in Buffalo. In that role, she explored educational programming in K-12 public schools.
This led to her hiring in 1977 by Don Mullally, then director of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to expand WILL-TV’s in-school instructional television program as director of learning services, a position she held until she retired in 1997. She was directly responsible for negotiating legal off-air broadcast rights for hundreds of schools throughout Illinois, which allowed teachers to use instructional television programs in K-12 classrooms, impacting thousands of children.
Harbison advocated for early childhood programs such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. She enjoyed many years of working with her Learning Services staff and WILL-TV production crew colleagues on the upper floor of the “old gray house” that served as the WILL-TV administrative offices. Her children were included and knew every nook and cranny of the old TV station, volunteering on many pledge drives.
After retiring from WILL-TV, she started Harbison Learning Systems, where she was able to continue building the web-based Instructional Technology Marketplace. There she enabled instructional video producers, educators and communications specialists to market high-quality, previously evaluated video materials that targeted both student instruction and teacher education.
Harbison was born April 25, 1939, in Buffalo, N.Y., the eldest child of William and Elsie Grondahl. She was a graduate of Kensington High School, N.Y., class of 1956.
Harbison was an active and acknowledged artist in Western New York in the 1960s–70s, an officer of the 1968 newly chartered Associated Art Organization and an active member of the Kenmore Art Society. Her artwork was featured in many exhibits, including the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Some pieces still hang in Buffalo-area businesses.
She taught art classes for adult education venues and as a substitute art teacher. She also volunteered in the Cheektowaga School District superintendent’s office.
She is survived by her brothers, Bruce R. (Rose) Grondahl and William J. (Patricia) Grondahl; grandchildren Ryan Keefer, Sunny Greene and Jenna Keefer; one nephew; and four nieces. She is preceded in death by her parents, her ex-husband George R. Harbison who was the father of her surviving children; Laura L. (Don) Keefer, Cheryl A. (Brandon) Greene and David G. (Grant Burton) Harbison.
A memorial visitation will be held Saturday in the Champaign-Urbana area at Sunset Funeral Home and Cremation Center, 710 N. Neil St., Champaign, IL 61820 from 12–2 p.m. Elaine’s final resting place will be with her parents at Elmlawn Memorial Cemetery in Buffalo, N.Y.
The family requests no flowers but gratefully requests donations in Harbison’s memory to the Albright Knox Art Gallery-Art Bus, the WILL-TV Public Education Program or an organization of your choosing that provides education, training and mentoring to young artists.
Please join her family in sharing memories, photos and videos on her tribute wall.