True Blue Competitor
Unstoppable passion for the game and for life
Story by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt
Photos by Paul Hokanson
Editor's Note: It is with great sadness that we learned of Nan Harvey's death on September 2, 2003, following a long battle with cancer. Please click on the link below to read the obituary that appeared in the September 4, 2003, edition of the UB Reporter.
Nan Harvey, UB’s associate athletics director, would prefer to keep her job forever, if given the choice. But should her cancerstage four ovarianwrest away that decision, Harvey has taken steps to ensure that UB’s athletics program, one of her greatest passions, continues on its course to distinction. Harvey has bequeathed a minimum of $200,000 to UB athleticsthat’s in addition to the nearly $18,000 she has given through payroll deductions since 1983, when she returned to her alma mater to coach women’s softball.
Many, including former UB athletics director Bob Arkeilpane, are hailing Harvey’s gift as a benchmark for alumni giving. “People say they want to see this program develop,” he asserts. “That’s not going to happen unless they take a vested interest in it. Nan has set a terrific example. She’s the perfect UB story.”
That story began in 1974 when Harvey enrolled in UB’s physical education program. Though she would play basketball and volleyball for the Blue and Whiteand though she had been playing major-level fast-pitch softball with the Buffalo Sunbirds since she was 16the Cheektowaga native was not offered an athletic scholarship. Chalk that up to the times, and to the newness of Title IX.
Part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title IX bars gender discrimination in educational programs or activities receiving federal funding, including collegiate athletics. Though her talent was overshadowed by the emphasis placed on men’s athletics, Harvey is proud that UB has fully embraced Title IX in its current NCAA Division I-A program. “The university decided to honor gender equality, and they have,” she says.
Harvey has played a significant role in fostering that commitment. Since 1996, she has supervised 15 university sports. And she is the highest-ranking woman in the department, representing the interests of UB’s female athletes and coaches.
Not bad, considering that her first staff position was as a part-time coach.
Betty Dimmick, director of women’s athletics at UB from 1976 to 1986, chose to entrust to Harvey a fledgling softball program begun on a “shoestring budget.” “My entire softball budget back then would cover the expenses of a weekend basketball tournament now for our women,” Harvey notes.
Harvey led the team to 38 wins over the next three years, and in 1985 she was named Coach of the Year by the State University of New York Athletic Conference. Accolades continued through her five years of coaching women’s basketball, including a first-place finish in the SUNYAC West Division from 1986 to 1987.
Carolyn Thomas, who is associate professor emeritus of exercise and nutrition sciences, coached Harvey through three seasons of basketball. It is her opinion that Harvey’s success is due to her unfaltering passion. “Because Nan stayed at UB, she had the credibility and respect to move into new positions,” says Thomas. “The program grew around her, and she grew around it. She doesn’t want to leave until she sees her vision completed.”
That vision includes the attainment of what Harvey calls “big-time athletics.” The university, Harvey explains, is on the brink of being recognized beyond its academic merits. “We want to have the same excellence in athletics,” she says. “And the reason this university should carry this flag is that we have the academic prestige.” UB just needs a growth in budgetand continued support from corporate and alumni dollars. “We’ve had a lot of bright and talented female athletes come through who are now bright and talented professionals,” Harvey adds. “I think they’re likely to give because of their experience here.”
“I was afraid of not living up to the UB ideal,” Harvey admits. “I was bright (she would graduate cum laude in 1978, earning an Ed.M. from UB in 1987), but I had a lot of growing up to do. There may have been areas of my life in which I felt unqualified, but I made up for them in sports.”
Thomas says Harvey quickly matured into a leader, on and off the court. And though she fashioned an exterior toughness, an underlying compassion and big heart were also fully developed, says Paul Vecchio, UB’s assistant athletics director for communications.
“Nan’s a very forceful personality,” he says. “When I got here eight years ago, I didn’t know how to take her.” But after a long day of golf together, he realized that “under the hard exterior was a sweetheart. She has the ferocity of a lion when it comes to something she decides is worth fighting for. She’s a champion for women’s athletics.”
Dimmick places Harvey’s accomplishments in a broader context. “Nan operates from a big picture,” she says. “She wants women to believe in themselves both as women and as athletes. She knows how hard she had to work to get what’s fair for herself and women’s athletics. The resistance against the women’s programs was tremendous.”
“When you have to be the rock or pillar, I think it’s difficult to come off as anything but confident,” explains Thomas. “Nan is demanding of people, but no more so than she is of herself. She’s an excellent administrator.” And Arkeilpane adds, “Nan came along as a tremendous athlete when intercollegiate athletics was dominated by men. So you can imagine how women of that era had to fight for everything they got. Are the students intimidated by Nan? No way. Her standards are very high, but all the people around her have high standards, as well.”
Rebecca Ashare concurs. The 21-year-old May graduate, who played volleyball for the Bulls under the intensity of Harvey’s expectations, says Harvey offered continuous encouragement. “During the spring of my freshman year, I remember Nan always being in the weight room during our early-morning workouts. She would challenge us to lift more and work harder, but she would also come up to us individually and cheer us on,” Ashare says. “She’s always been sensitive to the needs of women athletes and the rigors that come with participating in athletics.”
Harvey’s cancer has been unable to derail her focus from her students and staff, though she has spent much of the past three years in chemotherapy. She downplays the sometimes-weekly sessions as her “power naps.” Coworkers, like Vecchio, have been blown away by her tenacity. “Frankly, I don’t know how she does it,” he says. Ashare adds, “Her insistence on coming to work and attending athletic and school functions has always made me push myself a little harder.”
Harvey views each day through a positive lens; every moment is to be savored. Impressive past accomplishmentsincluding her induction into the National Indicator Fraternity of the Amateur Softball Hall of Fame and the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame and being named the Amateur Softball Association Metro Buffalo Umpire of the Year in 1996are extremely rewarding to Harvey. But they are second to what she considers she is accomplishing for UB athletes.
“So many students come through and they meet obstacles. But maybe 10 years later they realize that it wasn’t supposed to be easy; that it was designed to help them grow,” she says. “The changes I see in the kids are amazing. I get to see, on a daily basis, the results of our athletics program. And I know that to some extent I had involvement in that.”
That impact, Ashare suggests, is deeper than Harvey realizes. “She’s one of those few people who has come into my life and made an enormous impact,” she says. “The lessons of hard work, dedication, overcoming obstacles, teamwork and sacrifice have been invaluable. Nan is the perfect role model for each and every one of those lessons.”