A stolid figure sits at the grand table, a host of pages and event information at his fingertips. With bright eyes and baritone voice, he cheerfully recounts his tale, highlighting special events and happy moments with a hearty chuckle. “Really, I haven’t done anything I dislike,” Lee Harkness, the General Manager of the Jamestown Gateway Train Station explains. A man dedicated to his work and to the surrounding community, Lee Harkness is a treasure to our area and has a heart as big as Chautauqua Lake.
Harkness grew up in Cherry Creek, NY, but his family originated in Randolph, NY. “I went to Pine Valley High School – I was in the first class!” He continued on to higher education at Jamestown Community College. He also attended Cornell University in the late sixties, studying Animal Science, along with Economics and Business Administration. From 1967 to 1969, he devoted his time and efforts to the United States Army, working in plans, training, and security. “In the long run, it prepared me. It was a good experience.” he explains. “I was responsible for emergency medicals teams; we provided support for Washington D.C.” Harkness moved back to Randolph after his military service, joining into the family business of selling feed and operating a western wear and tack shop.
“In the first part of my life, I was a horse shoer, until I went into the Army,” Harkness recalls. “I’ve ridden about any kind of horse you’d want.” Horses played a large role throughout his life; from riding and breeding horses to breaking and training them, Harkness was very involved in matters of the equine. “I relate well to animals,” He recalls. “When you go in in the morning and night, you’re always talking to them– it was kind of relaxing.” This kind spirit shows through in other facets of his life, from his efforts in the community to his charismatic manner.
With a vibrant career path, and wide involvement in local organizations, Harkness has focused on the community, but even more so on what the people in the community want and need. From 1994 to 2003, he became involved in the Chautauqua County Department of Economic Development/ IDA as a Rural Development Specialist. “I would try to use the ideas of the community,” he explains. With these ideas at heart, he created bonds with the people he was serving, and solved problems one step at a time. “I ended up working in every community in the county,” Harkness laughs.
He later went on to become president of several organizations, such as the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the Chautauqua County Business Bureau, the Randolph Area Business Association, and the Cattaraugus County Fair, as well as the Executive Director of the Downtown Jamestown Development Corporation. Harkness is also involved in several organizations, such as Rotary of Jamestown, Randolph American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, New York State Association of Fairs, and many more. While he has put in a great amount of dedication and effort over the years, he remains humble, reflecting his accomplishments back onto the community itself. “I think the community has gotten a lot of things done that others are just starting to think about,” he explains.
Currently, Lee Harkness is the General Manager of the Jamestown Gateway Train Station. “I’m here seven days a week,” he says. “This place got busier quicker than anybody thought.” Kept busy with local events, business meetings, and more, Harkness seldom has a moment to himself. “There really is not any time,” he says, wistfully. Thankfully, he enjoys the tranquility and quiet of the countryside. “I like living in the country – I’ve got about 70 acres.”
From horse shoer to soldier, to organization president and onward, Lee Harkness has always kept the people he was serving in his heart. “I actually like most everybody,” he says with a smile. Clearly a servant-leader, a kind soul, and a dedicated worker, Harkness has listened to the people, learned through experience, and brought about lasting change in Jamestown and the surrounding areas. “Jamestown is very fortunate and has come a long way,” he muses as he looks out over the rail way.