Ellen Perry had a sign hanging in her office that told much about how the then Penn State associate athletic director and senior woman administrator approached life and her career at the university.
“Attitudes are contagious ... is yours worth catching?”
Perry, who spent 36 years as a coach and administrator in the Nittany Lion athletic program, died Tuesday morning. She was 72.
Perry was the school’s first women’s swimming and diving coach in 1970 and a senior administrator from 1989 to 2002. Her hard work, much of it out of the public eye and national spotlight, helped build the school’s women’s athletic programs into some of the most successful in the country.
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Her positive outlook was reflected in more than that office sign.
“Believe in the goal you’re trying to make and complete and go at it with a well-intended heart,” Perry told the Centre Daily Times of her attitude on life upon her retirement in 2002. “A happy heart works much better than an angry heart.”
Under Perry’s tenure as a senior administrator, Penn State’s women’s programs captured 14 national championships in six sports, as well as winning 17 Big Ten regular season championships and nine Big Ten tournament titles. The women’s fencing team also combined with the men’s team to win nine national titles in that period.
Perry, known as EP to her friends, oversaw 14 women’s programs as well as Student-Athlete Services. Approximately 750 student-athletes benefited from those services, which included financial aid, admissions, grants-in-aid, endowed scholarships, NCAA eligibility, housing, database, awards and liaison with the Registrar’s Office and the Morgan Academic Support Center.
She also served on numerous committees at the university and Big Ten level. She was named the Administrator of the Year in 1995 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
“Ellen Perry was one of the primary forces in making Penn State an early leader among national universities in providing opportunities for women in athletics on the intercollegiate, intramural and club levels,” said director of athletics Dave Joyner in a university release. “Ellen made a meaningful difference on the lives of Penn State students and staff and members of the State College and intercollegiate athletics’ communities. She played a significant role in Penn State’s transition into the Big Ten Conference and helped lay the foundation for the 60-plus Big Ten titles and nearly 20 national championships our women’s teams have won.”
Perry liked to think of herself as a “consensus builder” when it came to solving issues within the athletic department.
“There are very few people I can’t find something good about,” she said. “By virtue of that, I’d like to think I’m somebody who finds the glass half-full ... and we’ll just keep working at it to try to make it better.”
“Ellen was a dedicated leader in the field of college athletics who had a passion for the blue and white and all our student-athletes,” former Penn State associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Sue Delaney-Sheetz said. “Her vision and effort is reflected in the growth of women’s athletics at Penn State. She was well respected as a teacher, coach, mentor and administrator by her former students, athletes and peers throughout the country. Ellen will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends.”
Perry was still a coach when Title IX, the law which says that women must have the same opportunities to compete as men, was passed in 1972. She saw its impact both as a coach and an administrator.
“Nationally, there’s no question that it’s been a real help for doing frankly in my view what we should have been doing all along if education is for both men and women,” Perry said before her retirement. “We were wrong to be not allowing women in certain currriculums and not allowing guys into other curriculums. to have quotas for enrollment and do many of the things that really were the basis for Title IX.
“We should have been doing that without having to go through all of this business. To me, it was really something we never should have even had to have a law for. We should have been just doing it.”
“I will always remember her unwavering commitment to providing competitive athletic opportunities for female student-athletes and her pride in Penn State’s broad-based athletic program,” Penn State assistant athletic director Jan Bortner said. “As a tennis coach during Ellen’s time as senior women’s administrator, I got to observe first-hand her devotion, commitment, work ethic and tireless support as a real champion of Penn State athletics. It was a pleasure and honor to have worked with EP.”
Perry, a native of Reading, Mass., who loved New England, played basketball and lacrosse at Tufts University and also had a background in synchronized swimming. After a three-year stint as a physical education instructor at Bucknell, she arrived at Penn State in 1966 to further her education.
She coached lacrosse before taking over the Penn State women’s swimming and diving program. She complied a 98-26 dual meet record and the Eastern Women’s Swimming League named its championship trophy the Ellen Perry Cup. She also taught at the school from 1966 until the mid 1980’s.
Since retirement, Perry had maintained her support of Penn State athletics, often attending games and sending notes of encouragement to Nittany Lion coaches.
“Ellen Perry has meant so much to our program and to Penn State athletics,” Lady Lion basketball coach Coquese Washington said. “She was a remarkable woman, with incredible vision. Her support over the years has helped Lady Lion basketball exist as one of the nation’s elite and I will miss seeing her after our games with her warm smile and encouraging words.”
“EP was a person who was so special in my life from my freshman year at Penn State through every stage of my career and life since then,” said current Saint Francis athletic director Bob Krimmel. “She was a person who made all of us better for knowing her, working with her, learning from her and she embraced so many of us in a manner that gave us that caring feeling and yet firm direction.”
Koch Funeral Home in State College is handling the funeral arrangements, which are pending.