Phyllis Gwynn Carley, much beloved member of the Harker community, was a staunch supporter of Harker Athletics for over 50 years and is an inaugural member of Harker’s Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted Oct. 5, 2018.
Mrs. Carley, as she was known to so many, was an institution and an irreplaceable tie to our past. As a student in the Central Valley, she played polo, basketball and softball, and noted once that being involved with Harker allowed her to relive her childhood; 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 article. She passed away in 2009, but will be long remembered at Harker.
Born 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 lifelong aficionado of rodeos – always pronounced “ro day’ o” – and returned to Salinas to attend the California Rodeo every year; she attended 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.
Mike Bassoni, facilities director, who has been with Harker for more than 30 years, reminisced a bit. “Mrs. C loved horses, kids and dogs, in that order,” he said. “She wasn’t one for being fancy about much of anything, unless it was getting duded up for a rodeo. She personally knew famous cowboys, such as Gene Autry, but never spent much time bragging about it. She lived a simple life, didn’t need much and didn’t take gifts easily. She could run the front desk, do attendance, answer the phone and keep Howard’s professional life organized all at the same time. She gave of her time endlessly to the school. She was first in the door and many times last to leave. She believed in the joy of watching young people develop, but also hoped they would learn manners along the way. She is dearly missed.”
Pat Walsh, who started at Harker as a summer camp counselor and spent 40 years at Harker, retiring in 2017, remembers Mrs. Carley well. “For years, early in my career, she would sit in the Saratoga gym as kids went through the lunch line. She was verifying that they were on the lunch list. It was amazing how many kids would wander over to her to say hello and check in with her. She was amazingly aware of what was going on with each of them. She always seemed to be on the lookout for the kid(s) who needed an extra dose of attention that day.”
Walsh continued, “There was no pecking order with Mrs. Carley. Every Harker kid was important to her, whether they be the top cadet or a new kid having serious difficulties adjusting to the school. In fact, I think she secretly had a fondness for the ones who weren’t getting as much attention at home or were struggling in the classroom. I have a memory of her taking an upset first grader by the hand and walking him around campus until they were able to find his lost sweater. She had been on her way to her car, and there were others who could have stepped in, but she was always in service to ‘her kids.’
“I owe much of my success as a teacher to the lessons I learned from Mrs. Carley, Howard Nichols and Captain Torcellini. When I come across former students who were at Harker during their years, they express the very same sentiments,” finished Walsh.
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, was seen 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. 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. Chris Nikoloff, former head of school, 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.”