Phyllis Gwynn Carley, much beloved member of the Harker community for over 50 years, passed away in her sleep April 25, 2009. She was 88 years old. At a school that values its deep ties to the community, Mrs. Carley, as she was known to so many, was an institution and an irreplaceable tie to our past.
Nichols Hall hosted a gathering celebrating her life May 7 in Nichols Hall. The packed auditorium was the finest testimony the Harker community could make to the contribution Mrs. Carley made as the school grew from a boarding school in Palo Alto to the three-campus institution it has become today. The memorial included a welcome from Chris Nikoloff, head of school, and words from Diana Nichols, former head of school, on what Mrs. Carley meant to the school over the years.
Alumna Lauren Ammatuna ’08 sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a paean to the deep love Mrs. Carley had for wide open spaces gained on horseback in her girlhood in Modesto. Joe Rosenthal, executive director of advancement, spoke on Mrs. Carley’s legacy of caring and dedication; her stepson, Ken Blase, told stories of her from his childhood; and the memorial wrapped up with members of the audience sharing poignant, moving and joyous memories of how this outstanding, kind woman had touched their lives.
Born December 29, 1920, Mrs. Carley came of age prior to World War II in the Salinas Valley where in 1937, in one of her cherished moments, she was named Hostess of the California Rodeo in Salinas and awarded a pair of silver spurs she always treasured. She was a life-long aficionado of rodeos – always pronounced “ro day’ o” – and returned to Salinas to attend the California Rodeo every year, as well as attending other rodeos in central and northern California as often as possible.
The Harker School was graced with Mrs. Carley’s presence in a number of valuable roles, culminating with her services as secretary to the Board of Trustees and as a private clipping service for Harker’s Office of Communication. She opened her Harker career in 1952 in Palo Alto as a driver, shuttling local students to and from school. She progressed by virtue of her wonderful disposition and hard work to become secretary first to Donald Nichols, then to Howard Nichols and remained in that role for many years, though her contribution to campus life went far beyond her desk in the administration building.
As a student in the Central Valley, Mrs. Carley played polo, basketball and softball and noted once that being involved with Harker allowed her to relive her childhood, and for the duration of her life, she was one of Harker athletics’ biggest fans. “I love watching students of all ages coming together and having fun,” she said in a Winged Post (Harker’s student newspaper) article.
After retiring from Harker, Mrs. Carley continued to provide critical services to the school as secretary of the Board of Trustees. She was also a familiar face to current students and, as an avid sports fan, could be spotted at many home games. It didn’t matter what sport, she just enjoyed seeing kids active. Of no less value were her eight years of service to Harker’s Office of Communication where she scoured local newspapers for any mention of Harker. She dropped off the marked newspapers and her typed summary of news about Harker each week, and her visits were a welcome moment as she passed from office to office in the hallway – and also across the campus – dropping off clippings, sports scores and stories.
In 2006, Mrs. Carley received the Harker Alumni Association (HAA) Service Award, which was immediately renamed the HAA Phyllis Carley Service Award in her honor. Nikoloff noted, “Whether cheering our students at games or serving as secretary to the Board of Trustees, Phyllis Carley’s long career at The Harker School embodied the true spirit of service. Everyone at Harker enjoyed seeing Phyllis around campus, and her attitude of service and love has helped make Harker the special place it is today.”
Mrs. Carley lived the advice she once gave high school students, to “enjoy life and consider your friends. Academics are important, but so are our attitudes. Your attitude will stay with you throughout your life.” Mrs. Carley’s attitude, her dedication to her family and friends and to Harker will always inspire those who knew her.
She is preceded in death by her husband Rue Carley and survived by her grandson Dale Johnson (Harker Academy Class of 1980), stepsons Edwin and Ken Blase, as well as many other nieces, nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren.