Gerald L. Harp, former chairman and CEO of Springdale, Arkansas-based Harps Food Stores, died on Oct. 16. He was 80 years old.
Born in 1940 in Springdale to Harps Food Stores founders Harvard and Floy Harp, Gerald joined the U.S. Army after high school, serving during the Berlin Wall crisis. After returning home from the army, he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1966 and went on to work in the family’s grocery business in various roles.
In 1995, Gerald took over as chairman and CEO from his brother Don, who was retiring. Gerald himself retired in 2001, when he decided to sell Harps to its employees, and it became a 100% employee-owned company.
“Gerald Harp will be remembered for his boisterous laugh, his loyalty to his friends and co-workers, and his genuinely compassionate heart for people, particularly those in need,” said Kim Eskew, Harps’ current chairman and CEO. At Harps, he was the kind of leader who listened and allowed us to innovate and do our jobs without micromanaging us. At the same time, you always knew who the boss was. Our company thrived under his leadership, and it was his decision for us to become an ESOP in 2001. That decision changed our lives forever in a very good and even profitable way. Thousands of Harps associates are going to enjoy a much better retirement because of his decision. I think that everyone who worked for Gerald liked him and felt that he liked and cared about them as well. Gerald will always have a special place in the history of our company and in the hearts of the associates who knew him.”
Among his many community and professional activities were the Springdale Rotary Club and serving on the Associated Grocers board of directors from 1995 to 2002.
Survivors include his wife, Vicki; daughter Timi Ray and her husband, Frank; daughter Jackie Harp; and son-in-law, Kevin Blythe, as well as two stepdaughters and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His parents, brothers Don and Reland Harp, sister Judy (Harp) VanHoose, daughter Kimi (Harp) Blythe, and son Gerald “Jerry” Harp Jr. all predeceased him.
Funeral services will take place under the direction of Sisco Funeral Chapel on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 2:00 p.m. at Cross Church, in Springdale, with burial following at Friendship Cemetery, also in Springdale. His family has requested that memorials should be made to the Springdale Rotary Charitable Foundation, P.O. Box 6006, Springdale, AR 72766, for the purpose of digging water wells.
With about 100 stores in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, Harps is the largest employee-owned company based in Arkansas and the 30th largest in the United States.