Meet Mike & Sandy Harbison, one of our favorite green jacket couples!

First and foremost, what do you both do for work?
Sandy: Managing Director for Avondale Travel.
Mike: I am retired, but I do consulting work for a company called Providence Technologies.

Who is your favorite college football team? Are you a house divided or..?
Sandy: We both like to pull for the Florida Gators. Early on, Mike pulled for THE Ohio State University. I think if UNF had a football team that would be our team though… we are big supporters of UNF athletics!
Mike: I grew up in Ohio but moved down here way before the internet and got almost no OSU news besides maybe a couple of lines in the paper. Some friends of mine went to Florida, and that’s where I changed my allegiance to in 1972.

Are you both native to Jacksonville or where are you from?
Sandy: I have been in Jacksonville for about 50 years now, so I think I am from Jacksonville now. My dad was in the service, so we lived up and down the east coast for the first thirteen years of my life. My father was a Florida native and he retired here, so we ended up staying here.
Mike: I grew up in Ohio and my dad moved us down here because of his job in ‘72. I ended up spending my senior year here, which is not how I planned my life. It turned out to be the best because I met Sandy, and we’ve been married a long time and have had a daughter and now granddaughters. 

How did you two meet?:
Mike: We worked together at Eckerd Drugstore. It’s been 43 years of bliss!

How long have you both been involved with Gator Bowl Sports?:
Sandy: I have been on the green jacket committee for probably 10 years. I got involved while working at a local hotel. Terry had just come back the year before; He and I met to discuss what was going on, he invited me to a meeting and the rest is history.
Mike: This is either my third or fourth official year. I went with Sandy to as many events as I could to help her out when she would host teams. I loved it, but I was still working full-time, and I didn’t know nearly enough people, so I didn’t think it was a good time to join. It became evident I needed to join though because I love the people on the committee. I love the Gator Bowl and the people like Katie who are involved.

What is your favorite aspect of being involved with Gator Bowl Sports?
Mike: It’s the people for sure. Gator Bowl Sports members are the best.
Sandy: A lot of it is the relationships that I have built and getting to know people. I also love the community part of it. Trying to explain to people is tough, because I came from it first through the hotel side of trying to put heads in beds, but what the game gives back to the city is something that I don’t think a lot of people understand. I think Greg, for the past couple of years, has really tried to push sharing that. This is the about the city, this is why we do this game. It is not just a football game, it is to bring attention to Jacksonville and to help people in the community. I think what we do through Gator Bowl Charities is great. My niece being a teacher for the past 15 years, and seeing the struggle that she had, the MVT and teacher programs that we have are phenomenal. Giving back to the teachers has meant a lot to me!

How has the organization changed from your first year to now in your eyes?
Sandy: It has definitely evolved! I am going to be 100% honest with you, when I first joined, I was like “Oh there’s not that many women here”. It kind of felt like an old-boys club. Growing up in Jacksonville as a southern, “big-little town”, it seemed like it was all managed by the same people. I think seeing it evolve, especially over the past five years, has become a good mix of people and business. 

What is your favorite TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Moment?
Sandy: I have really enjoyed being with the spouses, as the Spouses Host. It gives you a whole new perspective and I have a lot of respect for them. They can be in one place one year, their husband gets fired or hired, and he moves on. They have to be willing to make that change. I think it has been really cool to see how they just get up, move, and support their spouses. I think last year is one of my favorite memories because of what the staff had to go through. How they pulled it off and how they were able to bring in Rutgers, and how grateful they were to be here. That to me was phenomenal, so big props to the staff last year. Hopefully, that will never happen again!
Mike: Yeah, I think last year was my favorite as well because of the little bit of stuff I was able to help with and how Greg and the entire staff were able to pivot and put on a good game and bring in quality people that we will always enjoy having met. It all goes back to the people again though because my favorite memories are meeting so many people like Phil Fulmer and other coaches that will go down in history. Seeing behind the curtain in the hospitality areas is a really good experience to see the real people.

What are your favorite parts about Jacksonville?
Sandy: I have grown very fond of Avondale… it’s always nice to be able to walk up and down the street. When we moved to Mandarin however many years ago, we laugh about it now, there was one Publix within about ten miles & now there’s a Publix on every single street corner. I have really enjoyed seeing the growth of Jacksonville. We tend to stay in that area. People always say, you must go to the beach every day, I can’t tell you the last time I went to the beach. I also really look forward to seeing Downtown Jacksonville grow. I would love to see people get back into the city.
Mike: I like Avondale and the small feel. I like San Marco and being able to walk around a square and see block after block of small businesses. I have been down around the sports complex for years and seen concerts at the coliseum before it was VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. I think what Mr. Khan is doing for the sports complex area is going to make it explode once they get a little bit more done with what they have planned.

You both seem keen on supporting local things like the Jumbo Shrimp, UNF, and the bowl game. What made you both start on that journey?
Sandy: My dad. I get emotional over that, but it was my dad. My dad graduated from UNF back in the early 80s when there was nothing out there. My first memory of the Gator Bowl was in 1973. I had uncles that graduated from UT, my dad was stationed there, and that’s where he met my mom in Tennessee. We went to that game, and that was really it… I was hooked. Luckily I married a guy who likes sports and we just kept it like that. It is also really important to me to support local and local businesses. Even when we travel I laugh when people go to chain restaurants, why would you go to chain restaurants in this city, when we travel, we try and find something that is out of the way and unusual. In Syracuse for instance, we found this place called Funk’n Waffles. The owner came out and we started talking to him. He was telling us how he was good friends with Guy Fieri and how he invited him out to play with his band at his birthday party last year. You don’t meet those types of people in a Cheesecake Factory!
Mike: I played all the sports in high school, never well, but I played everything that I could play. So when I met Sandy and kind of parlayed what she got from her dad over the years and coupled that into sports in Jacksonville. Seeing Sandy become involved and seeing her deal with everything from the Jumbo Shrimp to high school football team travel stuff and become integrated with sports people here in town has been really cool to see how she has dealt with and learned from all sorts of different personalities. I feel like I’m just riding her coattails on a lot of things by supporting sports teams here in town. 

Scouting college football games is a big perk of Gator Bowl Sports membership and you both take advantage of that. Where is your favorite place you’ve scouted?
Sandy: If it hadn’t been raining, probably Georgia. I really enjoyed my experience at Syracuse last month – the tailgating from what I saw was different than how it is in the south. They have a big quad at the University that was crazy and filled with sponsors, a band and food trucks. It was weird being in a dome to watch the game though. The stadium atmosphere at Florida Field is unlike no other.
Mike: I enjoyed South Carolina. If you want to talk about tailgating, those people make it an art. I enjoyed both South Carolina and Tennessee. Neyland Stadium is great. They treated us so well there last year, their fans were practically clamoring for us to have them come to the Gator Bowl as we were walking up the stands with our green jackets, and that was pretty cool.

You’ve mentioned a love for music in addition to sports. Do you have a favorite artist or genre of music?
Mike: The Tedeschi Trucks Band… it’s Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Derek started playing in bars when he was around ten and his uncle is Butch Trucks from The Allman Brothers. He grew up being a kid phenomenon and my favorite band was The Allman Brothers, so it became a natural fit. He got married and he and Susan formed a band. I have sort of dragged Sandy along into it. My goal is to see them all 7 nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York next year… we saw 4 this year. They really have it all, and I am a drummer, so I appreciate live music versus the studio stuff.
Sandy: Mike is a big music fan and loves all types. He plays the drums at our church too. I enjoy music, but I don’t think I have a favorite person or band. I enjoy listening, but I feel old because sometimes it is way too loud, even at church. I have no rhythm and I can’t sing so that plays into it, but I enjoy going with him.  

Is there a concert you wish you could have seen?
Sandy: She isn’t dead, but I wish I would’ve loved to see Cher in her prime.
Mike: We try to do all of the “see them before they die” tours. I saw the Stones back before the Gator Bowl was renovated. I haven’t seen McCartney yet; I would like to see him.

What do you enjoy doing as a hobby outside of work and philanthropy?
Sandy:  Enjoying time with our grandchildren. I enjoy scrapbooking, but the internet has kind of changed that and I am not sure if I like it. I enjoy finding those old pictures and saying, “Oh wow, do you remember this?”. I just did one for my girlfriend who just turned 80 and she said that was her favorite presents, and it was on the computer which was weird for me. Mike more than me, but we’re both involved in our church. If I could get back into it, I really do enjoy walking in 5K’s… I am just lazy and do not like to get up at six in the morning.
Mike: We both love traveling! I do some woodworking, and I have built some furniture for some friends which I enjoy. 

What’s your Favorite Sports Film?
Sandy: The Replacements. “You gotta have heart.” It is definitely one that we enjoy together. Oh, and also North Dallas Forty because of young Mac Davis… you can print that!
Mike: As a couple, yeah The Replacements. I know it is kinda cliche, but Field of Dreams is another great one! The bond that a father and son have over baseball, I would venture to say is closer than a bond that a father and son may have over football or basketball. My dad loved basketball so we bonded over that too, but there’s something different about baseball.

On the topic of baseball, what would your walk-up song be?
Sandy: The one I think of is Centerfield by John Fogerty.. “Put me in coach”… More because you’re willing and able to do anything. It is about being happy to help even if you don’t get anything in return.
Mike: Maybe Pasaquan by The Tedeschi Trucks band, but that has a 22-minute guitar solo that probably wouldn’t fit. 

Sandy talked about her first Gator Bowl experience, what was yours, Mike?
Mike: Well… we were sitting in a dead guy’s seats at the 1978 Gator Bowl. This guy had died and his wife knew my mother. His wife gave my mom the tickets because she knew I was an Ohio State fan, so she gave them to me for my birthday that year, which is a week before Christmas. We ended up getting some Ohio State garb and finding our seats that were in the middle of a section of Clemson fans. Everything was cool until Woody Hayes punched the player. Everyone around us was drunk as a skunk, and we really didn’t even know what was happening on the field because we were a bit too far away to see. 

Do you have a favorite piece of advice you have received and what advice would you give to a young professional reading this?
Sandy: Relationships matter. Parents always tell you to be nice to everyone and it’s so true. You have to be kind to people and build those relationships even if you can’t get anything from it because you do get something from being kind to people… you really do. When I was at a hotel, I used to call this high school coach all the time to get him to try and stay with us, and he would never answer his phone. So, one time after three years, he finally answered his phone and said “Are you the girl that keeps calling me?” I said, “I am, are you finally going to stay with us this year?” and he goes, “Well, I guess I have to now!”. It was one of those things where it is easier to just be nice to people. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you are from… just be nice, make your relationships count & don’t burn bridges.
Mike: Mine is exactly the same. I can’t count the number of times when I have worked for someone and then sometime later down the line they may be working for me – it just works out like that. You’re always told relationships bring you business and that is paramount. If you build the right relationships and read the room right, your day, week, month, and life, are just going to go better knowing you don’t have to have that contentious or one-upmanship ladder climbing thing that so many people think is the way to go.

Last Question… Who are your guy’s biggest supporters?
Sandy: I could not have done what I have without Mike’s support, especially with a small child. When I started my career and was able to travel because airlines wanted me to go to certain places, I would come home and say, “Well I have my daughter and blah blah blah”. If it hadn’t been for Mike being there to support me, I don’t know what I would have done. My parents were also always there to back me up no matter what!
Mike: I gotta say this because she is my wife, but I have made some career changes, some decisions, and some financial decisions where she could’ve said, “You’re an idiot, why are you doing it this way?”. I have made some mistakes and I think everyone does as they go through life. She has always said that if I wanted to do it, I should go for it. I also wanted to shout out Ann {Huffty} because I knew she was a quality person since I met her. She always kept me in line when I needed to be brought down. Through the course of it, she has not only become a great boss and mentor over the years, but she is an amazing friend to us. I would clearly say Sandy is my biggest supporter and my biggest friend and business supporter would be Ann!