August 1, 2009

Longtime Cornell Zamboni Driver Accepts University Retirement Package

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Over Dave Nulle’s three decade career working for the University, he became a staple of the Lynah Rink experience. Hockey players and skaters — not to mention fans — inextricably linked Nulle with the zamboni he drove and the costumes he wore, even giving him the affectionate nickname “Zamboni Dave.” But when he first came to Cornell, Nulle was simply looking for a job.
“I believe that it was almost happenstance that I became a Zamboni driver,” Nulle said. “If [Cornell] had been hiring chicken farmers at that time, my life would be totally different. It was totally happenstance that I became a Zamboni driver. I was looking for a job and they were hiring.”
Nulle was also the rink manager, a beginning skating instructor, a ballroom dance coach, an informal consultant for the glee club and a devoted Cornell hockey fan.
But his 30 year long career at Lynah, and at Cornell, came to an end last semester when he announced that he was taking the university’s Staff Retirement Incentive package along with 423 other Cornell employees.
In February, Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman announced that it would offer long-time staff members incentives to retire from their jobs in order to help the University alleviate its financial strain by trimming its workforce. Nulle — three decades of work behind him — took the package.
“The thing that I really liked about [Nulle] was that most people remembered him because he dressed up at the hockey games, but that wasn’t it,” Ryan Gomez ’09 said.
Nulle forewent all routines associated with his job, instead chosing to make himself a much more conspicuous figure at Lynah Rink, constantly associating with the different teams that practices and played at the rink.
“I will never forget his elaborate costumes at our shows and the time he serenaded the synchronized skating team; he was so dedicated to his job,” said Cornell Figure Skating Club Co-Captain Elizabeth Peters ’10.
Nulle was just as devoted to his job as to the people he served, as he never missed a single day of work over a three decade span. Cornell celebrated Nulle’s career with a 30th anniversary dinner “a year or two ago,” he said. He has worked at the University so long he’s lost track of exactly how long he’s been driving the zamboni. “I’m not sure [when I started exactly], I’m not very good with time.”
While Nulle’s career in the zamboni driving trade spanned over 30 years, he came to Cornell with no zamboni-related experience. Nevertheless, Nulle said that when he began working at Lynah, he was put to work right away.
“At some places, as I’ve read in trade magazines, they do more formal training, but that’s not the way it is here [at Lynah],” Nulle said. “Learning [to drive the Zamboni] is a process so it varies at different places — some people they just put you up there and point out the controls and let you go. Sometimes it’s very informal.”
It seems Nulle has spent enough time behind the zamboni, and in retirement, he is planning on spending more time participating in some of the other departments in which he was affiliated at Cornell.
With time in his schedule opening up, the former ballroom dance instructor is going to pass the days honing his own dancing skills.
“Now that I have more time to dance, I’m going to learn some more stuff,” Nulle said.
As to further plans for his retirement, Nulle said, “I think I might take a course at Cornell since [employees are] allowed to take a free course and I’ll definitely dance more.”
While Nulle’s employment at Cornell might not have seemed premeditated, he has a long family connection with the University.
“My father, Richard Nulle ’33, played hockey for Cornell on Bebee Lake.”
Before that, though, Nulle said, “My grandfather on my mother’s side used to sell equipment to the Cornell teams in the 1920’s.” He added, “My mother, Claire Denise Couach ’32, also went to Cornell and worked at The Sun.” Nulle continued, “She met my father at a dance at Williard Straight Hall.”
Despite his commendable employment record, Nulle said he wasn’t so sure that he would even have been hired by today’s standards.
“Quite possibly if I’d applied now Cornell never would have had me as a Zamboni driver,” Nulle said. “I guess it’s an interesting thing that they picked me and it worked out well for both Cornell and me.”
Many consider it a fortunate happening that Nulle ended up becoming Cornell’s most memorable Zamboni driver. Peters said, a sentiment likely felt by many others across campus, “He will be greatly missed.”