Full house keeps fatherhood fun for Nigel Harrison

Nigel Harrison, far left, back row, stands with wife Alyssa, youngest daughter Ivy, 3, Beckham, 16, Jack, 14, (second row) George, 9, Scarlett, 13, (third row) Crew, 6, and Morgan, 7.

Nigel Harrison, far left, back row, stands with wife Alyssa, youngest daughter Ivy, 3, Beckham, 16, Jack, 14, (second row) George, 9, Scarlett, 13, (third row) Crew, 6, and Morgan, 7.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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Mealtimes in Carson City’s Harrison household at maximum capacity often is like having lunch in a middle school cafeteria. The dining room is satiated with constant conversations of eight hungry children and occasional food being thrown between siblings. Then, it’s swiftly vacated by kids escaping kitchen duty once they’ve been fed.

“It’s like this tornado and people are gone,” according to happy father Nigel Harrison.

“That’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard,” his wife Alyssa Harrison said.

The couple carry a charismatic humor and outlook on their large family life. Theirs is an active home where they take their kids camping, fishing and climbing and maintain beehives in their front yard. One son works on two cars. One daughter dresses up like “Frozen’s” Elsa. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of interaction among the brothers and sisters.

Nigel enjoys all the variety that comes with his job(s) in the workforce, as a servicemember and in the home.

“We’ve been changing diapers for about 19 years,” he jokes.


LEAVING A MARK

Nigel graduated from Carson High School in 1999, joined the Navy and served four years. His Navy service included two deployments and he attended Western Nevada College, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in construction project management. To get a head start on job experience during high school, he worked for his best friend’s uncle. This bolstered his interest in the trades and it led to other opportunities. Since then, he’s also earned his master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“While I was operating equipment, I realized I wanted something bigger, so I went to work for a general contractor,” he said. “I loved working with my hands, and I wanted to leave my mark on society. It was a good fit for my personality.”

He went into the Nevada Army National Guard in 2009 and was commissioned as an officer and attended flight school. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 for a year and returned home, when he began working on a construction site.

“I didn’t like being gone again for work,” Nigel said. “So that’s when the position at WNC popped up, I applied, did all the interviews and got it and worked there. In 2019, I went to Afghanistan again as a commander and Medevac pilot.”

Nigel returned from his second tour and taught more classes at WNC online, being the sole full-time faculty member for the construction project management program working with some adjunct instructors then.

“Since that time, I’ve hung up the flying gig and now I’m working as a staff guy and I’m retiring from the Army National Guard next year after 23 years and four deployments,” he said.

Nigel also received a tenure appointment from WNC this year for which pre-tenure faculty must apply after at least three years and receive an excellent teaching rating.


FAMILY MAN

Nigel was glad to return home from his deployments and focus on his family with Alyssa, whom he credits for his success as a father.

“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I’m very fond of my wife,” he said. “We’ve always been best friends. We’ve been together a long time. She has grown as a mother. I owe her any accolades or any recognition I get as a father.”

The Harrisons’ eight children range in age from 3 to 19. Coincidentally, they worked out in a chronological pattern with three sons, a daughter, three more sons and one more daughter. Halen, 19, now serves on mission in Taiwan. The rest are at home and include Beckham, 16; Jack, 14; Scarlett, 13; George, 9; Morgan, 7; Crew, 6; and Ivy, 3.

When Halen was born, Nigel and Alyssa were living in Florida and he was in the Navy. They decided they wanted to be closer to extended family in Carson City. Alyssa came from a family of four, and Nigel had one brother, and the family involvement made more sense as the Harrisons’ additions grew.

“It’s not like we decided to have a mega family,” he said. “We just love this (toddler) age. (Ivy) is almost out of this fun age. We just said, ‘Let’s have another one.’ We just always wanted to have this toddler. The last three boys, they’re really close together, and that was by design.”

They’ve homeschooled all their children with the ability to send most or all to WNC.

For Nigel, each Father’s Day, birthday, holiday or any day is an easy conversation starter with friends or strangers who are curious about the Harrisons.

“Here we are, we’re kind of a circus,” he said. “And it’s funny. If we go somewhere, like In-N-Out (Burger), people are counting them. You can see people go, ‘Are those all yours?’ ”

Alyssa said the family dynamic has allowed the siblings to maintain a “built-in best friend” relationship attached with all the typical adventures, mischief and comedy one would expect.

“Just yesterday, the kids were sodas out on the driveway,” she said. “We were sitting on the couch for five minutes, and the three younger boys were throwing full soda cans just to see what would happen, and we heard like 20 randomly exploding cans on the driveway.

“I’ve said to people because we have so many boys, I feel like I live in frat house,” she said. “Nothing surprises me anymore.”

The parents have a routine well established with their teaching responsibilities, Alyssa said.

“I teach them how to read, he teaches them how to ride bikes,” she said. “I’ll potty train them. You (Nigel) teach them how to drive. I don’t do that. I tried that with my first; he’s very patient. That didn’t work out.”

She said she’s a good sport about answering the types of questions she receives about being the mother of a large family most parents wouldn’t get otherwise.

“We get asked, ‘What’s your food budget like?’ ‘Is it a blended family?’ ‘Did I birth them them all?’ ‘Did you have twins?’ ” she said with a laugh. “People are very intrigued, which I love. And we meet a lot of people who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and it would be totally normal if it were 1950. I joke I don’t have a job, but Nigel has about five. So he has a handyman business, he’s still in the military, he teaches at the college and does all kinds of other things to make it work.”


BUILDING ON SUCCESS

Harrison said he’s been pleased to see growth in the classroom at WNC in his construction project management program since his start. Approximately 95% of students have jobs waiting for them upon graduation, he said. To date, there are more than 100 taking construction classes and about 55 who have declared construction management as their major.

“When I first started in 2015, I had three or four kids in my classroom,” he said. “Now I have an average of about 19 to 25. It’s really taken off. I owe a lot of that to the exposure from the industry leaders in the community – Metcalf, Miles Construction. Southwest Gas has been great for hiring my students.”

The level of diversity is a reflection of the college’s success as well, and it’s all an opportunity for him to build relationships with students because they remain for four years, he said.

“We have kids who are graduating high school,” he said. “I have the 65-year-old construction superintendent who just wants to go back to school to be a public manager to get his degree. It’s the whole spectrum of experience in the classroom. It’s amazing.”

Nigel said he enjoys his community involvement, including being a member of this year’s Carson City Chamber Leadership Institute, helping out at Carson Middle School’s cross country and wrestling teams and other areas.

To celebrate his Father’s Day, the Harrisons said they’ll invite the family’s grandfathers over and Nigel will be in charge of the barbecuing. Alyssa, who normally plans out the meals, said it will be like “any other day.”

“We’ll go to church and the kids sing a really cute Father’s Day song,” she said. “I’ll make (Nigel) work in the yard.”

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