By Michael Novinson
How do you measure the life of a man?
Numbers define some men. Greg Kannerstein ’63 certainly loved them. He would spend hours in meetings calculating batting averages, shooting percentages and athlete GPAs, according to Dick Wynn, Greg’s friend and senior administration colleague for a quarter century.
So here are some numbers about Greg: 300 – the number of entries written in Greg’s online memory book as of Dec. 6; 45 – the number of years Greg spent at Haverford as a student or employee; and 8 – the number of positions Greg held since returning to work at the college in 1968.
“Nobody in the history of Haverford has held half as many positions as Greg,” said Roger Lane, a former history professor and Greg’s softball teammate for two decades.
But numbers certainly can’t paint the whole picture of a man.
What about words? Greg Kannerstein loved those as well.
“If Greg had stayed with journalism [his career after college], he would’ve been a nationally known sportswriter,” Wynn said.
Greg filled his written work with humor, wit and erudition.
“Greg would work great philosophers and French poets into a story about a baseball game,” Wynn said. And it would make perfect sense.”
Beauty abounded not only in the words written by Greg, but also in the words 17 close associates spoke about him.
Peers described Greg with the following words: generous – “He would do anything for anybody,” Lane said; humble – “Greg wasn’t one to toot his own horn,” said Steve Watter, Greg’s friend and Dean’s Office colleague for two decades; and supportive – “He was a cheerleader for everybody,” Wynn said.
Yet isolated descriptors cannot provide a narrative or arc for a life as rich as Greg’s.
So how about stories? Greg’s reputation for telling tales is known across many generations of Haverford students and families.
“In Greg’s head was more Haverford lore than in any place in the world,” said Thomas R. Tritton, president of Haverford from 1997 to 2007. Tritton served with Greg as part of the senior administration that entire time.
Greg could distinguish Chevy Chase facts – Chase successfully redirected all Lancaster Avenue traffic onto Haverford’s campus, resulting in backups that stretched for miles – from Chevy Chase legend – Chase never actually brought a cow onto the fourth floor of Barclay.
But Greg was as enthusiastic to talk about Haverford students past and present as he was reluctant to talk about himself, Wynn said. Any stories Greg told in which he played a part invariably wound up with him being the butt of some joke.
So how do you measure the life of this man?
The Utility Infielder
Greg Kannerstein played third baseman on the baseball diamond but occupied a different position in the Haverford administration – utility infielder.
“His accomplishment was to be available and to do well at any position.” Lane said.
Greg’s various roles within the Haverford administration caused him to wear many hats – literally. During a 2005 Board of Managers meeting, Tritton asked Greg to give the athletics and admissions report, so Greg showed up with both a baseball cap and a beanie in tow.
“He kept changing hats as he gave different reports,” Tritton said.
Greg’s sound judgment enabled him to show empathy while keeping students in line, said Alex Kitroeff, who co-taught a course with Greg for the past decade.
President Steve Emerson ’74 credits Greg for nurturing the Honor Code from its roots as a primarily academic document with bare-bones social rules and punitive features to an instrument that embodies the actual values of the college. Greg insisted that the code be governed by students for students.
“Greg was the one person on senior staff who advocated and stood up for students,” said Jeff Lichtstein ’08, who served as Students’ Council Co-President in 2006-2007.
During his three years as Dean of the College, Greg met weekly with the Honor Council Co-Chairs to discuss current and pending trials. Carolyn Warner ’10 co-chaired Honor Council in 2007-2008, and said Greg helped her focus on the Honor Code’s overall mission and avoid getting bogged down in particular cases.
“He kept trying to bring us up in whatever way he could,” Warner said.
Greg considered his stint as Dean of the College from 2006 to 2009 to be his victory lap at Haverford, Lane said.
Greg also supported the personal growth and development of his colleagues. He strongly encouraged Donna Mancini to get her doctorate degree early in her career and told her to pursue areas of interest not connected to her immediate job. Mancini worked with Greg in the Dean’s Office for more than three decades.
Greg’s hands-off leadership style allowed Michael Keaton to grow into new roles when Greg served as Acting Dean of Admissions five years ago.
“He didn’t come in and try to rearrange everything,” Keaton said.
When Emerson returned to Haverford in 2007, he had never been the president or dean of any other small college. Fortunately, Greg had been part of Haverford’s administration ever since Emerson graduated. Emerson sought Greg’s advice on everything from economic issues to faculty and administrative hires to a proposed smoking ban.
“Greg was a voice of incredible wisdom,” Emerson said.
Lichtstein crossed paths last year with Greg in Seattle. Lichtstein had traveled to the Pacific Northwest as a Haverford admissions counselor at the same time Greg was scheduled to speak at an alumni event. Lichtstein said the alumni welcomed Greg into the room with a standing ovation, swarmed him for hugs and begged him to tell Haverford stories, which Greg did for two hours.
“I have never seen so many people in love with somebody who wasn’t part of their family,” Lichtstein said.
Greg saw his time at Haverford not as a job but as a calling, Mancini said.
“He was Haverford,” said Watter. “That was his life.”
Bonnie McAllister worked with Greg in the Athletic Department for the past three decades, but all she ever saw of Greg at first was the back of his baseball uniform.
“He was always rushing through Ryan Gym and grabbing the baseball stuff,” she said.
The last-second baseball gear runs stopped in 1983 though, because Greg’s new position as Athletic Director gave him an office much closer to his sports equipment. Greg would remain as Athletic Director – and in Ryan Gym 101 – until spring 2006.
Greg’s enthusiasm for athletics has helped Haverford attract and retain many of its longtime employees.
“I thought almost immediately that he would be someone that I would want to work for,” McAllister said. “He would always come into work happy, and he would make you happy.”
A knee injury prevented Wendy Smith ’87 from coming to Haverford to interview for the athletic facilities manager job in the early 1990s, so Greg traveled for more than two hours to Rye, New York to interview Smith in her home. Over the subsequent 15 years, Greg would offer Smith additional administrative responsibilities, encourage her to attend off-campus conferences and pass along contacts who could provide insight into athletic administration. Smith took over for Kannerstein as Athletic Director in 2006.
Greg would even extend a helping hand to Haverford’s rivals. Even though Bryn Mawr is conference competition, Dean of the College Karen Tidmarsh – who many consider the Greg Kannerstein of Bryn Mawr – said Greg helped strengthen the Owls athletic program through staffing and infrastructure recommendations.
Greg also put immense effort into nurturing women’s sports programs at Haverford. The women’s varsity teams struggled in their formative years due to Haverford’s reputation as a single-sex school and associated structural challenges, Tritton said.
“When Greg moved in [to the Athletic Department], that’s when they started getting women more involved with sports and teams,” McAllister said.
As soon as Smith arrived on campus in Fall 1983, she began campaigning with friends for a women’s varsity soccer team. Greg helped provide the female freshmen with a gameplan, saying that they needed to demonstrate a commitment from a sufficient portion of the female students to justify the financial commitment of purchasing equipment, hiring a coach and establishing field space. The team began to compete at a varsity level in Smith’s junior year.
Smith said Kannerstein’s commitment to good people and structures made the process of establishing women’s varsity teams fairly seamless. Four varsity teams were founded within the first year of full-time female students being admitted to Haverford, while five more were created by the end of the decade.
“Greg ensured that Title IX wasn’t just a theory,” said Dave Beccaria, head baseball coach since 2000.
Kitroeff encountered quite a surprise when he walked into Ryan Gym 101 in the mid 1990s.
“I distinctly remember seeing two bookcases chalked with books,” he said. The variety and depth of the readings were not what Kitroeff expected from an Athletic Director.
“It wasn’t that Greg followed sports,” Kitroeff said. “It was that he thought about what sports meant for colleges and universities.”
Kitroeff quickly noticed that Greg saw sports and academics as an area of confluence rather than contradiction. He therefore decided to bring up co-teaching a sports course as a throwaway point at the end of a conversation.
Greg, however, almost never dismissed an idea as unrealistic or unproductive. He took the idea of a sports course so seriously that he had developed a curriculum and course plan within weeks to submit to the Educational Policy Committee for approval.
Sports and Society has been offered every other year since 1999.
Greg brought wonderful ideas about how to break up the monotony of readings, loved having students develop their own research and warmed Kitroeff to the idea of in-class presentations.
Kitroeff ended up publishing a book about Greece and the Olympics in 2004, which he said probably wouldn’t have happened without the experience of teaching a course and thinking academically about sports.
By the late 1990s, it was clear that Haverford needed a new athletic facility to replace the dilapidated Field House. Greg developed a case statement to improve Haverford’s athletic facilities, Wynn said, and advocated quietly but persistently for the project.
“He wanted a place we could be proud of,” McAllister said. ‘This is a long way from Ryan Gym.”
The Gardner Integrated Athletic Center opened in Fall 2005, eight months before Greg became Dean of the College.
“Greg never got to actually enjoy the new facility he had been looking forward to for 40 years,” Tritton said.
Colleagues emphasized that Greg embraced the notion of student-athletes in the fullest sense of the term.
“The Greek ideal of the perfect melding of the mind and body is what Greg’s ideal student would be,” Tritton said.
Greg had an incredible track record of having students earn all-academic honors from the Centennial Conference.
“We just blew all the other conference schools out of the water on that, including Swarthmore,” Wynn said. “You didn’t just play the game and screw around in the classroom.”
Greg also didn’t want athletes to become one-dimensional and function only as part of their sports team, Emerson said. Greg therefore worked to engage athletes in the Haverford community in ways other than their sport.
“Greg always loved that he could listen to the college orchestra and find lots of student-athletes there,” Beccaria said. “He championed the notion that student-athletes can be tough and gentle at the same time.”
Beccaria credits Greg for growing Haverford athletics into a legitimate, successful program through more full-time staff and improved facilities while not sacrificing any academic principles along the way. And Greg enjoyed virtually every moment as Athletic Director.
“Could anyone be more passionate about anything than Greg was about Haverford athletics?” Tritton asked.
A More Perfect Haverford
Greg generally remained subdued with his opinions, Wynn said, preferring to push certain initiatives forward in the background rather than lead the charge from the front. A lone exception exists, however, to this rule.
“One area in which Greg wasn’t okay with people doing what they wanted was social justice and the war against racism,” Emerson said.
Being one of very few Jewish students to attend Haverford in the early 1960s help solidify Greg’s commitment to civil rights.
“Haverford had a pretty spotty track record toward Jewish students,” Wynn said.
Greg began speaking out and acting on behalf of social concerns immediately following his graduation from Haverford. During the 1960′s, he taught at North Carolina Central – a historically black college – and wrote for civil rights publications. Both positions caused Greg to receive death threats.
“He was down in the south at a time when a lot of people got killed down there,” Wynn said.
In the 1970s, Greg won a prize from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education for a study of Philadelphia school desegregation and subsequently wrote his thesis on the desegregation of black and white colleges in several cities.
A decade into Greg’s time at Haverford, he led the College Committee on Women, which recommended in the spring of 1978 that Haverford admit full-time female students. Kannerstein wrote and presented the report to Haverford’s Board of Managers.
“Greg felt that Haverford was discriminating against women,” Mancini said. “He worked tirelessly to make sure that Haverford went co-ed.”
Back when Mancini had her first child, the Bryn Mawr deans threw her a baby shower since Haverford had so few female administrators. One male was willing to put himself in an awkward situation, however, to offer congratulations and transcend gender norms.
Greg showed up bearing a baseball as his gift and promised to teach Mancini’s child how to play the game.
Earlier this decade, Greg created a multicultural athletic recruiting internship to help sports lead the way in Haverford’s efforts at greater diversification. The position was eventually folded into the admissions department.
Greg’s legacy with racial issues shaped how he saw a Fall 2008 plenary resolution that proposed ending the practice of setting aside 30 percent of the slots in Honor Council juries for students of color. This was the only time Emerson saw Greg express concern that students were losing sight of challenges in the real world, most notably embedded and institutional racism.
“He was very uncomfortable with the idea of a tyranny of the majority,” Emerson said.
Tritton considers Greg’s work in diversifying Haverford to be his greatest accomplishment. As much as Greg loved his days as a Haverford student, he believed Haverford was so much better now, according to Smith, due in large part to the diverse, co-ed student body.
“He wasn’t an alum who pined for the good old days,” Smith said.
Coke and Tastykakes
Greg didn’t smoke, didn’t gamble and only drank an occasional beer, Lane said. But Greg still had a vice – food.
“Coke and tastykakes were his number one love,” McAllister said, noting that they were also his most frequent breakfast selection.
Greg also established the tradition of holding bi-college deans meeting at IHOP, where he and Tidmarsh would devour Swedish pancakes. Tidmarsh never went to IHOP on her own because “it breaks every health rule in the books,” but would make a special exception for Greg.
Greg often took Wynn to lunch at the 10th entry – Roach and O’Brien in Haverford – not for beer, but for burgers (Roach’s serves burgers – who knew?).
About once a month for nearly two decades, Greg, Watter and Wynn – along with their wives – would all try a different restaurant in the Philadelphia area.
“We tried to avoid all college business [at these dinners],” Wynn said. The men would often talk about their other common interest instead – sports.
Lichtstein remembers receiving the VIP treatment when going to Hymie’s Deli for an end-of-the-year dinner with Greg, Tritton and Students Council Co-Chair Neil Adige ’09. Although the meal took place more than two years ago, Lichtstein remembers Greg ordering the “Mensch” sandwich and being happy as a clam.
Elissa Kannerstein attempted to keep her husband on a diet, but Mancini would occasionally conspire against this. Mancini secretly purchased a chocolate cake from Viking Pastries in Ardmore for Greg’s birthday every year, and she remembers seeing Greg eagerly devour the cake.
Yet when it mattered most, Greg was able to restrain his favorite indulgence. Upon a doctor’s recommendation, Lane said Greg lost 20 pounds over the past summer.
Greg’s First Love
Greg didn’t end up marrying until 1986, but he discovered his first love – baseball – more than three decades earlier as a boy in North Jersey. He coached Haverford baseball from 1978 until 1992, and even though Greg would move onto bigger and better things, McAllister said coaching baseball was Greg’s favorite job at Haverford.
“He loved all sports,” she said. “But you’d always see him with a baseball cap on.”
Greg always focused more on playing well than winning, according to one of his players, Jerry Miraglia ’80.
“I would bet that Greg, even though he hated to lose, didn’t feel any pressure to win,” Miraglia said.
Greg played varsity baseball as a Haverford student and continued playing in a summer softball league up until recently. Lane played on Greg’s summer softball team for about two decades.
“Greg never could run for shit,” Lane said. “But what he had was lightning fast reflexes.”
The early teams Greg coached were small both in numbers and stature and lacked talent. They compensated through emphasizing fundamentals and pitching and being open to unorthodox strategies, such as aggressive base-running.
Greg enjoyed a marvelous rapport with both current and former players.
“It’s a very unique person who can be a coach, mentor and friend,” Miraglia said. In his four years on the team, Miraglia can only remember Greg getting mad once.
Despite his love for the game, Greg didn’t micromanage after giving up head coaching duties. Beccaria said Greg provided latitude for him to find his own way as a coach.
Sarah Wolff ’03 suggested to Greg and political science professor Anita Isaacs that the baseball team travel to Cuba over the 2001 spring break to participate in a baseball tournament at the University of Havana.
“Greg thought it was the most normal thing in the world and reassured others it would happen,” Kitroeff said.
However, the Cuban authorities scheduled anti-US demonstrations for the day after Haverford’s arrival and pressured local teams to not play Haverford, resulting in the cancellation of all of Haverford’s games.
Nonetheless, the team was able to organize pickup games through word-of-mouth and ended up playing all seven days the team was in Cuba, culminating with a game against the Cuban Youth Team in a stadium.
“Greg had a faith that if we approach people, they’d want to play our team,” Kitroeff said.
‘The Nicest Man in the World’
None of Greg’s accomplishments, however, can capture the profound impact his personal relationships had on thousands of former and current Haverford students.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in the world who could have anything bad to say about Greg,” Lane said.
Greg had a open-door office policy at all times and was always willing to write letters of recommendation, Beccaria said.
Mancini noted Greg’s generosity with time, spirit and money, a sentiment echoed by virtually every other close associate.
Greg once wrote a $5,000 check to a student, Mancini said, so that the student would have sufficient money in his checking account to get a visa for studying abroad.
“He would lend students money and say, ‘pay me back when you can,’” McAllister said. “And half the time he wouldn’t cash the [repayment] check.”
Greg’s reluctance to talk about himself accompanied an insatiable curiosity about others.
“He was always interested in you, which is why I think thousands of people felt connected to him,” Miraglia said.
Miraglia can’t think of a single time he spent with Greg that didn’t involve laughter. Tritton’s funniest moments with Greg came out of a poor night on the hardcourt.
Greg challenged Tritton to a game of HORSE in business suits following a Friday evening event. The duo shortened the game to PIG 30 minutes later since neither was shooting well enough to force the other to miss a shot, but both were misfiring so often that they never even finished that game.
“It was two good friends making complete idiots of themselves and enjoying every moment of it,” Tritton said.
Greg deserved to play hard – albeit not always well – considering the hours he put in at the office. Beccaria said Greg regularly worked 75-hour weeks as Athletic Director.
Greg’s positions might have changed over the years, but his hours remained consistent. Keaton would often arrive at the admissions office by 7:30 a.m., yet Greg was invariably there, speed typing away with two fingers in the dark.
His willingness to work so hard for so many years can be explained only by his love for Haverford.
“He thought Haverford was the best college in the country hands down,” Warner said.
Warner’s uncle pitched for Greg back when he coached baseball. So when he was trying to sell Warner on Haverford five years ago, he walked her straight over to Ryan Gym and began throwing stones at Greg’s office. Greg came out and welcomed them both in.
He proceeded to reminisce with Warner’s uncle about baseball alumni, recalling specific details and stories about people who had graduated two decades ago. It was during this conversation that Warner decided she wanted to attend Haverford.
Greg also held a steadfast belief in the inherent goodness of others.
“He was the nicest man in the world,” Emerson said. “He lived as if there was a spirit of the divine in everybody.”
Miraglia had been cut from his high school freshman baseball team and hadn’t played since he was 13, but wanted to resume playing in college. He told Greg about his lack of baseball accomplishments during their first meeting, but Greg didn’t bat an eye.
“There was no judgment in his response, no negativity,” Miraglia said. “Greg said ‘baseball will become a great part of your college experience.’ I remember him saying that with such conviction.”
And indeed, Greg’s prediction came to pass. Miraglia served as co-captain of the team his senior year, set an all-time Haverford record for career batting average and played professional baseball in Italy for a year after graduating, thanks to Greg’s encouragement and contacts. Not bad for a high school baseball washout.
Three decades later, Greg took yet another student under his wings.
Christina Wagner BMC ’11 enrolled in Greg’s Sports and Society class in Fall 2008 so that she could better discuss sports with her family and ex-boyfriend. Little did she know that the professor would offer her an independent study and the opportunity to get published based on a last-minute extension request and a friendly office visit the following semester.
“I never, ever, ever could’ve imagined that someone from my town would be doing this [conducting her own research with a professor],” Wagner said. “I was so struck that this Haverford professor wanted to help me.”
Had Greg lived longer, Christina imagined she would become the Mitch Albom to Greg’s Morrie Schwartz.
“I could see myself being 40 or 50 and keeping up correspondence with Greg,” she said.
Haverford’s Last Luminary?
So how do you measure the life of a man like Greg Kannerstein?
Perhaps looking at how it ended will provide some clues.
At the annual baseball alumni game in October, Greg didn’t seem quite right physically to Beccaria, yet he still really enjoyed reconnecting with alumni and current students.
“He’s the modern day father of the baseball family,” Beccaria said.
Miraglia visited Greg on Nov. 21, three days before he died. Greg seemed pretty weak and had to remain lying down in a hospital bed, yet he still managed to throw Miraglia and his baseball friends into several fits of laughter.
“Who the hell does that?” Miraglia wondered.
When Haverford’s Board of Managers finally decided to admit women, the female students wanted to ring the bell atop Founder’s Great Hall, Mancini said. The administration officially opposed the idea, but Greg thought it was appropriate and looked the other way as the students planned to ascend the steps of Founders.
As the bell rang 67 times at high noon on Nov. 24, one hour after Kannerstein’s death was announced to the Haverford community, Mancini couldn’t help but flash back to the rings heard 29 years earlier.
“I just had deja vu,” she said. “There’s a hole – I feel like something is missing.”
Watter considers Greg Kannerstein irreplaceable, a view expressed by virtually everybody else who knew him well.
“Haverford has lost one of its great sources of joy,” Tritton said.
Flip open “The Spirit and the Intellect: Haverford College, 1833-1983,” edited by Greg Kannerstein, and the names of Haverford icons jump off the pages: Gummere, Sharpless, Jones, Coleman, Stevens, Cary, Adler. One more name will soon join this list.
“A lot of people view Greg in the same light as he viewed Haverford’s icons,” Beccaria said.
But for now, Greg’s legacy remains in the making. His chapter is unwritten.