December 16, 2011

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Swarthmore Mourns the Passing of Hall of Famer Hess

from press release | Related: Philly.com Obituary

SWARTHMORE, Pa. - The Swarthmore College Department of Athletics and Physical Education mourns the passing of Eleanor Kay "Pete" Hess, Professor Emerita of Physical Education and pioneer in women's athletics. One of the most beloved coaches and administrators in the history of Swarthmore Athletics, Pete died on December 14 at the age of 87.

Pete was a fierce advocate for women's athletics at a time when women were not provided the same opportunities as men in collegiate athletics, changing the lives of countless female student-athletes at Swarthmore over her 33-year career. She was well known for her love of Swarthmore College, athletics, team spirit, and hard work.

Since hearing the news of her passing, both former colleagues and current coaches have testified about her enduring legacy at the College.

"She was instrumental in bringing the men's and women's athletic departments together, and in her quiet way, she was very influential in the development of women's athletics in our conference and throughout the nation," says former Athletics Director Bob Williams, Marian Snyder Ware Professor Emeritus of Physical Education and Athletics.

"Pete Hess was an advocate and leader for women's opportunities in college athletics long before such a position was popular," says Mike Mullan, head men's tennis coach. "She was a trusted colleague in the department who contributed greatly to the College."

Pete graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1946 and worked at Neshaminy High School and The George School before arriving at Swarthmore in 1957.

As an administrator, Pete chaired the Department of Physical Education and Athletics for Women from 1965 to 1979, and then served as the associate chair for the department of physical education and athletics from 1979 to 1990.

As a coach, Hess guided four different sports at Swarthmore: field hockey, lacrosse, badminton, and tennis. She led the lacrosse team from 1957 to 1984, compiling 121 victories, which is the second most in program history. She led the field hockey program during that same time period (1957-84), leading the Garnet to 140 victories, the most by any coach in program history. She is also all-time winningest coach in the history of the badminton program, earning 286 wins during her two stints as head coach.

"She was a dynamo, there's no doubt about it," says Ernie Prudente, Professor Emeritus of Physical Education. "Pete had all the women playing sports and she really took care of them. She was always smiling, always cheerful, always pleasant to be around, and I'm going to miss her."

In particular, Pete's hard work and determination played an integral role in the development and growth of women's lacrosse and field hockey at the college level across the nation.

Inducted into the Pennsylvania Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000 and the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2002, Pete was a lacrosse umpire for more than 30 years (she umpired games well into her 80s) and served in a variety of leadership roles, including president and treasurer of the Philadelphia Women's Lacrosse Association. She also co-chaired two USWLA National Tournaments, was site co-director of the 1986 World Cup Lacrosse Tournament held at the College and had her coaching techniques published in various instructional books.

An advocate for the game of field hockey as well, Pete served various roles--including president--for the Philadelphia College Field Hockey organization during a 26-year period. In 1989, Hess was given the NCAA Field Hockey Anne Townsend Award, given annually to an alumna who has contributed to the development of women's sports and athletic organization. Pete also co-led the American Friends Service Committee overseas workshops from 1979-82 and was the coach of various US Olympic Development field hockey camps.

Current women's lacrosse coach and former field hockey coach Karen Borbee admires Pete's influence in women's athletics and in her own personal coaching philosophy. "Pete was an authentic pioneer for women in athletics. She showed me the right way to educate women through sport. She was an icon in the field hockey and lacrosse world and everyone knew and loved her for her kind words and friendly smile. It wasn't long ago that you would see Pete out on the field hockey field officiating youth programs. Those girls had no idea that the reason they were able to play was because the older woman who was officiating their game had paved their way. Pete was happy to stay in the background and enjoy being a catalyst for the women and girls who followed."

Pete retired from the College in 1990. In her honor, the Eleanor Kay Hess Award is given to the sophomore woman at Swarthmore who demonstrates a love of athletics, leadership, hard work, fairness, and objectivity.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, April 13, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. in the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House.


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