Detroit architect Harold Varner dies at age 78

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DETROIT (AP) - Harold Varner, an architect on the design team for Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, has died at age 78.

Varner died Saturday at Harper Hospital in Detroit after a long illness, his daughter, Kimberly Varner Tandy, told The Associated Press Wednesday.

One of Detroit's most noted architects, Varner was part of Sims Varner & Associates when the firm was hired to design a building for the museum.

"Being able to design it was an incredible honor for him," Tandy said. "The rotunda is an example of things he had experienced as we traveled to Africa. He wanted it to be more of a gathering place than a museum. That's really what he was trying to impart into that building _ a place to come and experience the culture as well as celebrate our heritage."

The 125,000-square-foot museum opened in 1997 just north of downtown Detroit. It houses more than 30,000 artifacts and archival materials. It also serves as a repository of documents of Detroit's labor movement. It served as the location for visitation during memorial services for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in 2005.

"He was hands-on in making sure it was completed properly," curator of exhibitions Patrina Chatman said of Varner's work on the design. "He also continued to support this institution until his death. He just really loved it. Some people come and build and never come back. He was always here."

Varner also was an American Institute of Architecture fellow.

He's survived by his wife, Nancy; daughters Kimberly Varner Tandy and Stacy Varner Jackson; two sisters and a brother.

Visitation is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Swanson Funeral Home in Detroit. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the museum.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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