For 25 years, Don Harley’s official UNH job title may have been treasurer of the student activity fee, but he is best remembered as a mentor to generations of student leaders. A lifelong learner, he also had a teacher’s gift and instinct for passing his wisdom on to others.
Harley died of a heart attack in 2002, but he is still making an impact at UNH through the scholarship fund that his widow, Jean, and his family, friends and former student employees established in 2003. Three donors to the fund are among the many who still feel Harley’s presence in their lives.
Former mentees of Don Harley (center) turned out in force to toast his 60th birthday in 1996.
“Don believed in me before I believed in myself, “ says Cathy Saunders ’83, head of registered investment advisory business for Putnam Investments. She met Harley when she was the student manager for the UNH Job Board and credits him for the opportunities she had to meet business leaders around the Seacoast. “The gifts he gave me I experience every single day. He never ran out of time for me, or stopped coaching me or elevating me.” This included sending Saunders some advice via videotape when she was facing a crisis in confidence 10 years after graduating.
Harley’s interest in leadership stemmed from his experience as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in the 1960s. From the Army superior who allowed Harley and his fellow officers to fail, the lesson learned was that “all the demands coming from the outside are nothing compared to the internal desire and belief that one can excel.” In his work with UNH students, Harley was good at spotting the first and nurturing the second.
Once, after a very turbulent Student Senate meeting, Harley wrote a “brutally honest” note to Mike Proulx ’95 and other student leaders. “His words boiled down to a pointed message,” Proulx recalls. “Leadership is hard. At times it’s lonely. It’s frustrating. It’s political. But it’s also rewarding beyond measure.” Now chief digital officer at Hill Holliday, Proulx dedicated his first book to Harley, who also featured prominently in a recent talk Proulx delivered to honors students in Paul College.
“Don was a terrific mentor,” says UNH Foundation Board President Brian McCabe ’91, who was the business manager for the Student Activity Fee Organization during his student years. “He allowed us to learn the position by trial and error, to make mistakes — but he helped us fix them before we were finished.”
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Today, the Don Harley Scholarship Fund provides scholarship support to sophomore or junior students who belong to one of the Student Activity Fee organizations and demonstrate strong leadership qualities.
“I want to honor the aspirations Don had for all of us by helping those who exhibit the fundamental qualities he had and need the support,” says Saunders, a lead donor to the fund. “I want to promote the best of Don Harley and his legacy, to help UNH drive those characteristics.”
“The scholarship celebrates Don’s legacy as a lamplighter by recognizing extra-special student leaders that Don might have chosen to personally mentor,” says Proulx. “Every promising student leader deserves a Don Harley-like coach to provide sage context to their career experiences.”
“Supporting the fund is a way to say thanks for all Don did for me,” says McCabe. “It also highlights the important role so many people like Don play in students’ lives at UNH. I hope the students who are lucky enough to receive the scholarship can look back to their UNH mentors 25 years later and still be able to feel their impact, as I can.”
Originally published in UNH Magazine Winter 2018 Issue