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Why Harvard Recreation’s 87-year-old Ed Kelley is the inspiration we need

At age 87, Ed Kelley, HealthFitness professional at Harvard Recreation, says he has the best job in the world. “My job is to get people smiling first thing in the morning,” he says. “I greet them by their first name and remind them to have a good day.”

Ed is one of 122 HealthFitness staff managing the Malkin Athletic Center and Hemenway Gymnasium on the Harvard University campus. Every day, Ed walks to Harvard from his home to open the front desk at the Hemenway Gym at 5:30 a.m., checking the locker rooms, restocking towels, and making sure everything is up and running for the members of the fitness center. Ed keeps the front desk running smoothly until he ends his shift at 1:30 p.m., and then walks back home.

Ed enjoys the walk—he’s been walking back and forth to work at Harvard University for more than 60 years—and that’s two miles each way. 

Six decades and three careers at Harvard
In 1959 Ed was hired as a linotype operator in Harvard’s print shop. In 1972 computers arrived on campus so Ed moved from the print shop to the grounds crew. “I liked cutting the grass, taking care of the grounds and talking to the variety of people at Harvard,” he says.

One day Harvard’s athletic director asked Ed if he would be interested in working at the Harvard gym and opening it in the morning. “I jumped at the chance and said yes—and I’ve been loving the job ever since. I am proud to work at such a nice and friendly gym.”

Ed enjoys meeting people from all over the world who come to Harvard to teach and study. “I’ve become friends with the professors, staff and students. My family and I support the students and their sports, attending games and tournaments.”

Ed also appreciates his HealthFitness colleagues. “The crew and the students really watch out for me. We have a good group.” If a member has a question that Ed can’t answer, he feels confident in referring them to another HealthFitness colleague. “Our team is top-notch and our leaders are A-1! We like to have fun—we even dress up on the holidays and celebrate birthdays.”

Reaching goals
Ed’s attitude and approach to life and work inspires everyone he meets. Recently celebrating his 87th birthday, Ed has thankfully checked off many goals on his “bucket list,” but has two goals left to reach: “I want to live to be 100 and work until I am 100,” he says.

Due to Harvard University and Harvard Recreation temporary closing because of COVID-19, Ed admits he has been going a little stir crazy at home. “I can’t be sitting—I need to be on the move.”

Ed and his family are staying safe at home, with his children doing the shopping and driving if Ed has an appointment or needs to go to the bank. “My family takes good care of me,” he says.

Although he has never experienced anything like the COVID-19 closures, he shared that the shut-down is not the most challenging. “When I was a groundskeeper, there was a snowstorm that hit the area and I plowed snow for two days straight—that was an incredible winter storm.”

Advice and inspiration
When it comes to his career, Ed heeds the advice that his grandfather gave him long ago, “He told me if my job gives a day’s pay, make sure I always give them a day’s work.” Ed shared this guidance with his children and grandchildren. “If your company is good to you, then you should be good to them. I follow that advice to this day—and I enjoy my job and my life.”

About Harvard Recreation
Harvard University partners with HealthFitness to manage its Malkin Athletic Center and Hemenway Gymnasium. All undergraduate students have free access to the two complexes. Combined with graduate students, faculty and staff, total memberships are in excess of 45,000. With more than 400,000 annual visits, offerings include recreation, aquatics programs, group exercise, personal training, physical education and wellness programming.

Posted on April 29, 2020 in Engagement Professionals