Back in 2017, Mary Critikos ’54 was visiting Harley and noticed a group of students sitting on the floor, among backpacks and jackets, at the top of the stairs outside the doorway that leads to the theater. She loved the joy on their faces as they talked and laughed, but she did not like that they were sitting on the floor.
“[Even] while Harley was poor in 1954, we never sat on the floor,” she says.
Mary saw this as an opportunity to beautify a space where students liked to go, but she was also determined to have them hang out in a more civilized manner. She went home and perused catalogs and eventually decided to order a bench, a chair, and a beautiful settee from a shop in England. Then she started working on a needlepoint of the Harley alma mater that would adorn the same spot.
She took her first stitch in 2018 and her last stitch in February 2020. The piece was finished with a beautiful cotton velvet backing by James P. Frank, grandparent to Harley graduate John Papin ’16. Now all she needed was a way to hang it. Hoping to “keep it in the family,” Mary contacted Karen Saludo in the alumni office to see if there were any alums with woodworking skills. Mary wanted a wooden pole, finials, and brackets that “felt like Harley,” with a design that contained acorns and oaks. Karen immediately suggested Jacob LaDue ’19, a recent graduate who had already showed off his skills by crafting two benches for Harley.
Jacob was excited about the prospective project, but he was the first to admit that while he knew he could do it, he wasn’t exactly sure how. Luckily, Jacob’s father is also adept at woodworking, and Jacob turned to him for some advice. With the help of his father, (and also Len Wilcox P ’01, ’03) Jacob was able to pull it all together masterfully. The best part? The wood for the project came from a fallen tree on the Harley campus, one planted by Joe Merrill ’77 many, many years ago.