College of Arts and Humanities

Brooks Center director emerita awarded Order of the Palmetto

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Brooks Center for the Performing Arts Director Emerita Lillian “Mickey” Harder has been honored with the highest civilian award in the state of South Carolina.

Brooks Center executive director Janice Crews and State House Rep. Jerry Carter (R-Pickens) presented Harder with the Order of the Palmetto on Monday evening on the Lillian Utsey Harder Stage. The order established in 1971 recognizes citizens for extraordinary lifetime service and achievements of national or statewide significance.

Harder exceeded those qualifications with flying colors.

She taught in the Department of Performing Arts for 24 years, began an endowed chamber music series in memory of her late parents, served as the director of the Brooks Center for 21 years and was named an honorary alumna of Clemson University in 2017.

I was absolutely stunned because I knew nothing about this. Little did I know when I decided to make the arts my career that this decision would have enough of an impact to lead to an honor like the Order of the Palmetto. The memories I’ve made at Clemson were achievements of my career and life that I will always cherish. I thank Rep. Jerry Carter and others who wrote letters of support on my behalf. My family and I are humbled and very appreciative of this honor

LILLIAN “MICKEY” HARDER, DIRECTOR EMERITUS OF THE BROOKS CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS

Carter said President Jim Clements, President Emeritus Jim Barker, Clemson University Board of Visitors member Hank Owen and City of Clemson Mayor Robert Halfacre submitted letters supporting the nomination.

A woman receives a standing ovation in a theatre as she's presented a framed resolution.
Brooks Center for the Performing Arts Director Emeritus Lillian “Mickey” Harder receives a standing ovation as she’s awarded the Order of the Palmetto by South Carolina State House Rep. Jerry Carter (R-Pickens).

“During her years of leadership, many world-class acts appeared at the Brooks Center,” Carter said. “The Clemson community and Clemson University are all better due to the efforts of Mickey Harder.”

A career spanning decades

A native of St. George, South Carolina, she met Byron Harder on a blind date 55 years ago. A retired doctor and Vietnam War veteran, Byron is in the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and served as a team physician beginning in 1972, serving more than 10,000 student-athletes for more than three decades.

The couple established an endowment to create the Lilian and Robert Utsey Chamber Music Series at Clemson in 1986, which runs as the only endowed chamber music series in South Carolina. The Harders established the endowment with a $20,000 donation and a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The endowment has grown exponentially thanks to generous donations from community members over the past 38 years.

The endowment stipulates that concerts remain admission-free for all. Since 2003, recordings of Utsey Chamber Music Series have been broadcast on National Public Radio’s (NPR) “Performance Today,” the most popular daily classical music radio program in the United States, more than 100 times.

The recordings are produced by the Brooks Center’s professional audio team. Performances have reached more than 26 million listeners.

As of Spring 2024, the Utsey Series has presented 168 free evening concerts and 77 free morning concerts in the Bill and Donna Eskridge Tri-ART Series.

“Mickey Harder has left an immeasurable legacy at Clemson and has inspired countless people through the arts,” Crews said. “This honor is so well-deserved.”

‘Absolutely priceless’

College of Arts and Humanities Dean Nicholas Vazsonyi called Harder a “dynamo” and “passionate supporter of the arts in our region.”

“I am so thrilled Mickey has received this richly deserved recognition,” he said. “Her series has put Clemson and the Brooks Center on the national map with over 100 broadcasts on NPR. That’s millions of listeners. Absolutely priceless.”

Other well-known recipients of the Order of the Palmetto include former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, South Carolina governor and current Trustee Nikki Haley ’94, PGA Tour golfer Lucas Glover ‘01 and Trustees Kim Wilkerson ’80 and Nicky McCarter ‘80.

More about the Order of the Palmetto

According to the Office of the Governor, the Order of the Palmetto: “…is presented in recognition of a lifetime of extraordinary achievement, service, and contributions on a national or statewide scale. The Order of the Palmetto recognizes individuals who have selflessly given of their time, resources and goodwill through a variety of different causes and pursuits to the benefit of their neighbors, fellow citizens and the fabric and prosperity of South Carolina. Business, political or personal accomplishment may be important factors, but noble works for others mark the true purpose.”

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