November 2, 2006

Harkness to Be Honored

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It’s a name that has been on many awards and trophies for Cornell over the years, but this Harkness isn’t used to being in the spotlight. In fact, Ellen Harkness — daughter-in-law of former men’s hockey and men’s lacrosse coach Ned Harkness — doesn’t even think she deserves to be in the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame. But ask anyone who worked with her over the 41 years she spent in the Cornell sports information/athletic communications office, and they will tell say that “Mrs. H.” means just as much — if not more — to Cornell athletics than any athlete or coach ever could.

“She never had a true sense of her value,” said Marlene Crockford, an administrative assistant who worked alongside Harkness for 26 years. Jeremy Hartigan, Sports Information Director, chimed in. “And it was beyond words. She definitely doesn’t realize at all … [and it was] indescribable.”

The late Ben Mintz hired Harkness in 1964, bringing her into the Cornell office for her first – and last – full-time job. From the start, her time working for the Athletics Department was marked by her devotion to her job and her colleagues and her ability to remember every face that passed through the office, whether it belonged to a student assistant, an athlete, a coach, or anyone else.

“This job was her life,” Crockford said. “She didn’t have children of her own so she devoted herself to … the Athletics family and she revolved around it. If she wasn’t at a game, she was listening to it on the radio. She was sincerely involved in each team’s success.”

But while those she worked with can clearly see why Harkness was selected to join the Hall of Fame, she still questions the logic behind the decision.

“It’s silly,” she said. “There are so many people who deserve it more than me.”

While everyone that worked with her would agree she fulfilled her job description — editing and proofreading media guides and acting as the historian of Cornell athletics — it was through the special touches she brought to the office and the athletic community that she went above and beyond the call of duty.

Harkness would give everything from M&Ms to Christmas stockings to the people in her office, and used her sense of humor to brighten everyone’s day, her coworkers said. She even had a running list of Cornell’s top-10 most good-looking athletes.

“She treated us as family,” Crockford said. “We were all her kids — she adopted us.”

Cornell athletics were so much a part of her life that when she and her husband, Tom, were planning their wedding, they chose the date on a bye weekend for the hockey team in January so that Ned Harkness could attend.

Of all the exciting events that Harkness witnessed over the years, she remembers the career of Ed Marinaro ’72 as a special time. He seems to have felt the same way about her, as Crockford recalled he sent an arrangement of long-stemmed red roses on the day when she marked her 20th anniversary of working for Cornell. The implementation of Title IX and how it changed the landscape of college athletics forever was another event she singled out for its important effects on her job. With 40-plus years of experience under her belt, “Mrs. H.” was an invaluable resource for the Sports Information staff.

“Besides the fact that we miss her, I miss her so much as a resource at the office,” Hartigan said.

As soon as someone stepped into the office, Harkness would call them by name — whether they were currently competing for Cornell or if they were an alumni in their 30s or 40s back for a quick visit, she knew them all.

This weekend, whether she’ll admit she deserves it or not, the community that “Mrs. H.” gave so much to will return the favor by bestowing its highest honor upon her — a place in the Hall of Fame.