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Reader Mail

Thrilling Memories of Harkness Coaching

The December issue included heartfelt tributes to Ned Harkness from former players and friends [“Memories of Ned”]. I never knew the man personally and during my years at RPI in the late ’60s he was something of a nemesis as he coached Cornell to those two other national championships. Not mentioned in the tributes was his short but amazing tenure in the mid-’70s as coach of the new Union College hockey team.

I was living and working in Schenectady during the ’70s and was enough of a hockey fan to recognize an opportunity of a lifetime when I first heard the news that Union had hired Harkness. Those first two years of hockey, ’75-’77, were truly awesome. Harkness recruited a brand-new team, which went 19-4 the first season and made it to the ECAC Division II quarterfinals before being beaten by Army 3-2. We had seats across from the benches, and it was always packed and noisy in Achilles Rink even that first year, but I can still hear Harkness barking at his defense every time the puck went over, “BACK, BACK!” Inevitably, the defense, anchored by tough 22-year-old freshman Jack Rankin, held.

The next year, ’76-’77, Harkness added several Division I teams to the schedule but the winning continued with a record of 22-3-1. Union lost to Clarkson but beat Northeastern, St. Lawrence, and New Hampshire. If my memory is correct, New Hampshire was rated No. 1 in the nation at the time and the game was in New Hampshire. I was doing my two-week naval reserve training down in Mississippi at the time but I had my wife tape the game and send me the cassette. My buddies thought I was nuts as I cheered on this unknown team playing in snowy New Hampshire. I wish I still had that tape!

The third year, ’77-’78, Harkness was ready to take the team into Division I, but my memory is that the faculty at Union objected and vetoed the idea. Consequently, Harkness left early in the season and most of the team left with him. My buddy and I gave up our season tickets at the end of that season.

As the years pass, memories fade, but I have three indelible hockey memories—the RPI line of Watson-Scammell-Law my freshman year, Harkness at Union, and the U.S. beating the Russians and the world at Lake Placid (which I got to watch live on Canadian TV while doing another reserve training stint at nearby Fort Drum). I can’t ask for more than that.

John Morgan ’69
North Andover, Mass.

More Alumni on the Fort Ticonderoga Team

I write as grandson of Russell Westbrook ’20, son of Jack Westbrook ’46, and myself as director of Fort Ticonderoga [“Alumni Pool Talents To Recreate Fort Ticonderoga Building,” December 2008.] We appreciate the wonderful piece on the RPI team who contributed their talents to Fort Ticonderoga’s new $23 million Mars Education Center, which was dedicated by the French Ambassador, Pierre Vimont, on July 6, 2008.

But you missed perhaps the most important player on the RPI team, David Biggs ’72, now principal of Ryan-Biggs Associates in Troy. David Biggs, P.E., is the senior member of our design/preservation professional team. David has been Fort Ticonderoga’s guiding structural engineer for 20 years. During that time, he planned the stabilization/preservation of the collapsing walls of the Fort, led the development of a pioneering acoustical monitoring system for early detection of failures in stone-masonry walls, and—most important in this context—directed the structural and earthquake-protection engineering for the new Mars Education Center during the past nine years. It is safe to say that there would be significantly less of historic Fort Ticonderoga, a National Historic Landmark, to appreciate today were it not for David Biggs’s guiding light on our four most important preservation projects during the past 20 years: the Fort, the Pavilion, the Thompson-Pell Research Center, and now the Mars Education Center.

A couple more RPI alums on our Mars Education Center team: Josh Gagne, M.S. ’05, and Eric Gagne, M.S. ’05, who were part of the extraordinary masonry team reconstructing French-Canadian masonry with a level of craftsmanship that matched that of their “ancestors” building the original Fort and the magasin du Roi 250 years ago. They are now senior members of North-east Masonry operating out of New Hampshire in a company founded by their French-Canadian father, Gi.

Nicholas Westbrook
Director, Fort Ticonderoga
Ticonderoga, N.Y.

Caught on Film!

I just received my December 2008 issue of the magazine, and was pleasantly surprised to see the photograph on page 54 of the Boston Chapter’s trip to Fenway Park on July 29. It is serendipitous that although I live in upstate New York and only attend one or two Red Sox games each year, I happened to be at that very game with my family, and in fact we can be seen sitting under the scoreboard near the lower left corner of the photo!

Norman Turnquist ’93
Sloansville, N.Y.

We’d love to hear from you! To provide space for as many letters as possible, we often must edit them for length. Please address correspondence to: Rensselaer Magazine, Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, e-mail to alum.mag, or call (518) 276-6531.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.