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Business Observer Tuesday, May 3, 2022 3 months ago

Prominent Lee County construction leader dies at 96

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Not one to yell at his team, Daniel Harper was known to sport a calm demeanor even if someone made a mistake.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Daniel Harper might have been born in Arkansas, but the longtime Lee County resident had a hand in building many well-known roads and communities throughout his adopted hometown. 

The former president and co-owner of highway and mining company Harper Bros. Inc., Harper was heavily involved in the construction and development of a wide swath of Southwest Florida. That goes from Hideaway Country Club and Bonita Bay to portions of Cape Coral and Interstate 75. 

Harper died April 20. He was 96. 

“He was great to work with,” says Ron Inge, president of real estate consulting firm Inge & Associates. Inge met Harper in the late 1970s before beginning a career at Harper Bros., first as controller. Inge worked his way up  eventually becoming executive vice president. “He would give you some direction, but would let you go do your thing.”

That’s just one of many lessons Inge picked up from Harper throughout his career. Other lessons included staying debt free and “keep the main thing, the main thing,” Inge says. “That means to keep the focus on your core business.” 

But possibly some of the best advice Harper gave was one evident in his leadership: support your team, and don’t be critical. Inge says Harper was never one to berate his team.

“I only saw him raise his voice one time in 40 something years,” Inge says, “and then it was only to calm the room down so we could move forward.” 

If an employee made a mistake, Inge says, Harper would calmly discuss it and ask, “Well, what are you going to do about that?” 

Inge remembers a time when Harper Bros. began working on its biggest project, a 3,100-acre quarry off Alico Road. “We were having problems with zoning for the quarry expansion and neighbor opposition,” he says. So Harper sat down with the team to craft a solution of meeting with the neighbors to see if something could be worked out. Everything worked out — the quarry remains in operation today.  

The gentle demeanor Harper showed employees was something seen in his life outside of work as well, Inge says. “He really was the kindest, most humble person you’d ever meet,” he says. 

That carried over to charitable giving, too: Harper and his wife, Anne, formed the nonprofit organization Daniel R. and Anne M. Harper Foundation. “They acknowledged everything they had came from God,” Inge says. “They were willing to give back.”

After serving in World War II as a member of the United States Navy, he returned to his home state of Arkansas. A few years later, Harper graduated from the University of Arkansas and then married Anne Presson in 1948.

Convinced by some local relatives, the couple moved to Southwest Florida in the early 1950s. Harper started his career in home remodeling, Inge says, but soon after, discovered his true passion was in fill dirt and rock construction work. Inge says in the early days, when he was just getting started, Harper would load the fill dirt into a dump truck to move it to the home site. His wife, Anne, would drive the dump truck.

Harper and a colleague, Quinton McNew, founded Harper Bros. in the mid-1950s. In 1999, the duo sold the company to Rock Industries in Jacksonville for $87 million. After the sale, Harper continued finding a variety of projects to work on and kept Inge around as a consultant. That continued until this past year when Harper started to slow down. “He was a great gentleman to be around,” Inge says.

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