MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – Many across the world are mourning NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ sudden passing on Tuesday.
“We lost a true hero, today,” friend of Harris and Monongalia County Schools Director of Nutrition Brian Kiehl said.
A hero to many, whether you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan or not, either through “NFL’s greatest play of all-time” or through his humanitarian efforts.
Harris, 72 years old, was about to enter a stretch of days that would recognize all of his efforts as a person and player. The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Immaculate Reception’ is Friday, Dec. 23, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to retire his number 32 in the matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.
“(Franco was) a guy that carried himself so well. I’m a Franco Harris fan,” Former NFL player Jeff Hostetler said over the phone to 12 News. “It’s a shock, with all of the things going on this upcoming weekend.”
Harris’ passing has left a shock on the north central West Virginia community as well.
“(Franco) was loving,” Kiehl said. “He was never pretentious and no matter who you were, he wanted to spend time with you and to know you.”
Kiehl had the opportunity to meet Harris a few years back at a conference for child nutrition in Clarksburg, since Harris, also an owner of Super Bakery, had a heavy focus on feeding children with healthy and nutritious options. While at the event, Kiehl got to see the “down-to-earth” person that Harris was.
“I was waiting for him to arrive, and I was waiting for a giant Limo to show up and all of the sudden this small little car shows up, and there Franco was, smiling,” Kiehl said. “He was so friendly, he spoke to all of the directors and afterward he hung out about an hour afterwards and he and I just sat there (and talked.)”
Some of the things the two talked about were Harris’ start in the bakery business after his playing career ended.
“He told a story of when he first started in the bakery that he would deliver food himself and he was at 7-Eleven and someone said ‘Is that Franco Harris stocking the shelves?’ and someone else said, ‘There’s no way that’s Franco Harris stocking the shelves,'” Kiehl said.
Kiehl mentions that the two talked about Penn State, Harris’ alma mater, and the Nittany Lions taking on WVU in 2023. After that, the two began to be email buddies.
The two eventually formed a bond. Kiehl asked Harris to visit Morgantown to speak to cooks within Monongalia County, which happened in August.
“He just loved being with people and would do anything for anybody,” Kiehl said. “Franco said that being with the cooks just pepped him up since he wasn’t feeling well.”
Harris’ ‘Super Bakery Donuts’ are offered to children within some Monongalia County schools, which are a big hit; Wednesdays are known as “Donut Wednesdays.”
Kiehl will never forget his moments spent with Franco Harris, who was a Hall of Fame player and person.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed just to have a few minutes with him in my life and it was a blessing,” Kiehl said.