Darkness is just setting in as I park my car at Lynah Rink. It’s one of those vintage Ithaca winter evenings — snow is gently falling, the air is whipping across my face relentlessly. Once I finally take refuge inside, I begin to think about who I will interview and what I will ask. On this particular night, I am quite early. I am also quite exhausted and starving.
I usually do not arrive with as much time to spare before doing interviews, but hockey is a bit different. I always allow myself some extra time to visit with one of my favorite people on campus — Sue Detzer. Officially, she is the administrative assistant for the men’s hockey office. But she has earned her fair share of more appropriate monikers — “resident hockey mom,” “smiley,” “candy lady,” “friend.”
Sue is one of the first people I got to know in the athletic department when I became an editor at The Sun, and I could not be more fortunate and privileged to have done so.
Hockey interviews are usually the culmination of a full day of classes for me. Having spent all day harrying around campus where a “hello” from a staff person is about as hard to come by as a failing grade at Harvard, seeing Sue is a welcomed opportunity. No matter what, any visitor to the hockey office is assured one of the friendliest and warmest greetings this side of the Mason-Dixon line.
Sue has one of the most unforgettable smiles you’ll encounter, and she is always wearing it. It’s not long before the laughter comes. I’ve never seen a person with more facial expressions on the phone than Sue. As I watch her take calls, whether they are about tickets or golf events, she never fails to crack into a bout of mid-conversation laughter.
On this night, after we have our standard talk, I inform Sue of my hunger pains. In a second, she breaks out a file of menus from every culinary establishment within a 100-mile radius. After asking for some suggestions, Sue helps arrange for dinner to be delivered to the rink. I wound up watching the rest of practice eating a fantastic veal casserole.
More than anything, I admire Sue for her unabating, unconditional happiness. It’s contagious, I swear, even for the most stoic individuals. And most importantly, it spreads to the entire team.
“Her smile and laugh is great,” said junior forward Sam Paolini. “We always kid that if you have a bad joke, tell Sue, and she’ll be sure to laugh.”
“Sue’s a great lady. She’s always in a good mood and is there to cheer you up,” added classmate Shane Palahicky.
Palahicky should know Sue as well as anyone on the squad. Regarded as the resident candy fiend on the team, he says Sue’s impressive sweets-stash is one of her main draws. Indeed, goodies fill the space around her desk and are a welcome refreshment for players, visitors, coaches, reporters and fans alike.
“I’ve always been happy,” Sue says. “I’ve always had the giggle. It’s how people know where I am.”
But Sue’s impact is felt well beyond her feel-good presence. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his two assistants, Brent Brekke and Jaimie Russel, enjoy the luxury of having a full-time administrator who deals with road-trip planning, ticket allocations, and the many events surrounding the program.
“[Not only] does she always have a smile on her face, she allows us to focus on our main job as hockey coaches, which is something that a lot of other programs do not have,” Schafer said.
So whether it be the intangible aspect of keeping the mood up in a long and arduous season or freeing up extra time for film preparations, Sue’s role is integral to the team.
A local resident her entire life, Sue began working at Cornell in 1981, starting her career in Athletic Public Affairs before taking a post with the Cornell Fund. Never a hockey fan, Sue attended her fist game while working for the Fund. At the conclusion of the game, she turned to her sister and asked in bewilderment, “What’s going on?” When she was informed that the game was over, she replied that she would have to buy season tickets — which she has owned ever since.
Sue heard about her current position, which she assumed in the fall of 1997, from a co-worker in the Cornell Fund and it’s been a match made in heaven ever since.
“Its a perfect job. It’s great to work with students,” she says smiling from ear-to-ear.
Sue’s eyes glisten as she breaks into laughter, talking about her day-to-day activities.
“It’s great being one of the guys and going on the road trips with the band and all.”
Sue’s story goes beyond the realm of athletics though, embodying lessons that would be well for all of us to realize. As we struggle to understand our changing world, it is more important than ever that we build stronger communities.
Sue has certainly helped create a family-like atmosphere in the hockey program, and her story should be a reminder that what we really need are not more policy gurus or think tanks, but more emphasis on the little things — the smiles, the “hellos”, the concern for our neighbors. Sounds clich