Andrew Dys

Deadly blast thrusts Harder daughters into sudden grief

Rock Hill's 21-year-old Ashlie Harder had to be some strong grown-up lady Sunday and Monday.

No doubt her loving parents readied her, somehow, through joy and care that knew no bounds, for doing the worst duties anyone her age has to do.

On Sunday, she found out her parents, Ray and June, died in an explosion that morning in Conway. She had to help her 16-year-old sister, Destinee, deal with the ache and loss, and still does. Then on Monday, she had to handle funeral arrangements.

"They were completely loving and trusting, so generous, and I guess they passed it on to me," Ashlie said Monday afternoon from her uncle's house in Conway.

Early Sunday morning, an explosion rocked the house June inherited after her mother died a couple years ago.

"My brother lives a quarter-mile away, and they heard it," said Michael Hughes, June's brother.

The couple that met in the Air Force more than 20 years ago was preparing the property for a possible rental.

But who Ray Harder and June Harder were and left behind will remain. Ray, a Citadel graduate from Charleston, had been on Guido de Best's technology team at Time Warner Telecom in Charlotte since 1998. They were not co-workers: They were best of friends.

"I remember the first day I met him, Ray looked at me and said, 'This table has four legs to hold it up. I am one of your legs,'" de Best said.

Ray had three priorities, de Best said: "Family, fishing and work. In that order. He loved his family. He loved those girls something fierce."

One of Ray's sisters died a few years ago. Ray took his niece in, helped raise her, and made sure she went to college, de Best said.

June, called Faye by her family, was a bubbly personality who had a love of life and her family that was infectious, de Best said.

The family came to Rock Hill in 1993 after six years in Germany in the Air Force, said Ashlie, a junior at Winthrop University who recently finished the semester after two years before that at the College of Charleston. Destinee, an honors student in her junior year at South Pointe High School, is a mainstay in plays and musicals at school.

Staff at South Pointe were directed Monday to make arrangements for Destinee to be able to finish up the year's school work later, said principal Al Leonard, who had Destinee at Saluda Trail Middle School before high school.

"School is not what she needs to be focusing on right now," Leonard said.

Jimmy Chrismon, who directs the plays and teaches drama at South Pointe, said Destinee is a top performer and her parents were top supporters.

"They never missed a performance," Chrismon said of Ray and June Harder. "Destinee has made it clear she doesn't want to talk about it yet, but I need to be here when she needs me. I'm 29 years old and on my own, and something like this happens to me I would be devastated. Imagine what it is like for her."

I can't imagine.

Few of us, maybe none, can.

There will be few people, if any, at Time Warner Telecom today. Because there is a memorial service, organized by Ashlie and others, at 3 p.m. in Conway.

"I bet anyone who ever met Ray and June will find a way to be there," de Best said. "They made life better."

Ray and June Harder didn't watch life, they charged through it with their daughters in tow. Then the daughters became young women, and the parents never missed a moment or stopped helping dreams come true.

Out behind the Harder home southwest of Rock Hill is a pond. Ray built it himself. He stocked the fish.

"He loved those fish," Ashlie said. "He loved his garden, too."

And Ray and his wife took care of three dogs, all those fish, and 13 cats.

And always, those two daughters. Ashlie and Destinee were home in Rock Hill on Sunday when they found out their mother and father were gone. They have to be adults right now, so soon after Mother's Day, because the mother and father who loved them so are gone.

---Want to Help?

A fund for Ashlie and Destinee Harder, daughters of Ray and June Harder, who died Sunday in an explosion in Conway, has been set up at Ray’s office at Time Warner Telecom.

Write to: Ray and June Harder Memorial Fund, 11006 Rushmore Drive, Suite 200, Charlotte, NC 28277.