Westmont Magazine An Educated Painter
As the oldest of nine children, Mark Harris ’85 didn’t have much money for college. To put himself through school, he held a variety of jobs: waiting on tables, working in factories, groundskeeping at a Montecito estate, and painting houses.
The need to work year-round didn’t slow him down academically—he graduated with a double major in religious studies and English and earned a master’s in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in 20 months.
But his professors at Fuller dissuaded him from going straight into a doctoral program in clinical psychology. “They told me, ‘You’re only 24 years old, and you look 19. No one will take you seriously or listen to what you say. The only option for you is youth ministry.’ So I decided to take some time off from school.”
Mark turned to something he knew: painting. Hiring five Westmont friends (David Cronk ’85, Roger Griffith ’85, Brad Kirk ’86, Kirby Repko ’86, and Pete Welty ’85), he started a business named “The Educated Painters.”
“Together, we had spent about $300,000 on our education and we had all become painters,” Mark laughs. “My buddies grew up and eventually got real jobs as teachers, missionaries, clinical psychologists, and computer analysts. But I’m still painting.”
Mark has discovered a huge demand for painters who show up on time, work hard, and do their job well. The business has boomed.
Today he oversees 11 painters and keeps three crews busy at all times. “We do much more than just paint,” Mark notes. “We help people renovate and restore homes to their original glory. Our customers include some of the most prominent families in Los Angeles, as well as top-level executives and Hollywood writers. I love my work.”
Although it seems far removed from studying theology, painting has opened up tremendous opportunities for ministry.
“I have shared my faith more as a painter than as a church volunteer,” Mark states. “I come incognito, dressed in my painter’s whites, looking like any other blue-collar worker. I show up on Monday morning, and by Tuesday, I’m getting prayer requests and personal stories.”
Mark and his wife, Gayle, bought an old home in Altadena, Calif., and lived in the guest house for eight years while establishing a Christian community in the main house. “This incredible community allowed me to extend my Westmont experience,” Mark explains. The Harrises then restored the large home and moved into it in 1997.
A member of the President’s Associates (donors who give $1,000 or more each year), Mark is also the co-leader of the San Gabriel Alumni Chapter with Steve Kamm ’88. “So much of who I am today is directly related to what happened to me at Westmont: who my friends are, the direction of my life, the decisions I make. All roads lead back to Westmont,” Mark reflects.
“I have a secret goal,” he confesses. “I want to leave $1 million to Westmont to make sure it keeps equipping young men and women to go out into the world and make a difference in Jesus Christ’s name—and I plan to encourage all my friends to do the same.”