Archive for Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Woodling: Football secretary special

July 8, 2008

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Oh, what a book Marge Hazlett could write. Oh, the tales she could tell of skeletons in closets, of peccadilloes swept under rugs, of juicy tidbits never made public.

Several years ago, I queried the woman who was secretary to every Kansas University football coach since Pepper Rodgers if she had ever considered doing a tell-all book when she retired.

Hazlett just smiled. She didn't say no, but she didn't say yes, either. She hadn't left me in limbo, though. I had known her long enough to understand that no answer is a definite no.

Marge Hazlett hadn't lasted that long under that many different bosses by breaking the cardinal rule of secretary-dom which, of course, is: Smile and Keep Your Mouth Shut.

As the years passed, however, I began to believe Hazlett would never retire anyway. She kept going and going and going.

Five or six years ago, she went into semi-retirement by working two or three days a week, and I figured she would continue in that capacity until KU either joined the Big 16 Conference or dropped its football program altogether.

Thus, I was genuinely surprised to learn while scanning the KU Athletics Inc. Web site the other day that Hazlett finally had checked it in after more than 40 years of answering phones, scheduling appointments and, in general, displaying the inherent decorum that made her a natural.

In fact, she was honored more than 10 days ago by athletic department employees in a low-key affair that made me wonder if Gen. Douglas MacArthur was wrong, that it is actually old secretaries, not old soldiers, who never die and just fade away.

How old is she? Well, I asked her that once, and I received neither her age nor the answer I deserved for having the temerity to ask. She just - you guessed it - smiled. I never asked her age again.

At least twice during her four-decade association with KU football, Hazlett's upbeat disposition underwent severe tests.

They say nothing is more difficult for a parent than to bury a child, and Mindy, one of Hazlett's two daughters, died of leukemia at the age of 22 back in 1978. In the wake of that heartbreak, Hazlett became active in a support group for parents coping with similar grief.

Eighteen years later, her husband Bob, a Lawrence insurance agent, died at the age of 63 - again too young. So since 1996, all she has had is daughter Karen who lives in Topeka. Still, sometimes professional and blood relationships are really indistinguishable, and Hazlett has remained close with all her former bosses and their families.

A few years ago, a reporter asked Hazlett if she could name a favorite among KU head football coaches Rodgers, Don Fambrough, Bud Moore, Mike Gottfried, Bob Valesente, Glen Mason, Terry Allen and Mark Mangino.

"I could," she replied, "but I would never admit it. They were all special in their own way."

At the same time, I'm pretty sure every one of those men who sat in the office next to Marge Hazlett would, if asked, state that she was pretty special in her own way, too.

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