Godfrey remembered as a ‘tireless worker,’ ‘honest,’ ‘caring person’ and ‘ardent Wildcat fan’ by Northern Michigan colleagues
MARQUETTE – Longtime Northern Michigan University athletic director Ken Godfrey died Wednesday night at the age of 64 following a lengthy battle with acute myeloid leukemia and graft versus host disease, which resulted from his bone marrow transplant during treatment.
His death comes four days after being inducted in the NMU Sports Hall of Fame.
“He is probably one of the hardest working people I have ever been associated with,” NMU women’s basketball coach Troy Mattson said. “He was a tireless worker, somebody that absolutely loved the place that he worked for, Northern Michigan University. That’s how he treated people and what he expected from all the people that worked for him. He had a passion for NMU and that was his vision, that everybody understood the green and gold.”
Godfrey, a native of Maywood, Ill., worked at Northern for 32 years, starting as a graduate assistant in 1978 and then as head of recreational services in 1979. He was the Wildcats athletic director from 2003-11.
Five of his head coaching hires at NMU while AD – Mattson; Matt Granstrand, soccer; Jenny Ryan, cross country; Heidi Voigt, swimming and diving; and Dominic Yoder, volleyball – are all still active. Granstrand, Mattson and Yoder have all led their respective programs to the NCAA tournament while Voigt and Ryan have coached NCAA championship qualifiers and All-Americans.
“I’m thankful that he gave me the opportunity to come to such a great place and all the support he showed me throughout the years,” Granstrand said. “After every game he would come walking across the field, big smile on his face. He’d give me a big handshake, say, ‘Hey, great job.’ Just the enthusiasm, he made you want to do a good job for him.
“He was honest, up front, easy to talk to, personable. He was the kind of guy you wanted to work for. You knew he was going to work hard and you knew he was going to support you.”
In addition to the five active coaches, Godfrey brought back 1993 national championship volleyball coach Jim Moore for two seasons that resulted in NCAA tournament runs both times, as well as former track and field coach Tom Barnes, who also consistently guided athletes to the NCAA championships.
Godfrey also played an integral part in hiring head hockey coach Walt Kyle the summer prior to taking over as AD. Like the others, Kyle led his program to the NCAA tournament as well under Godfrey.
“The biggest thing I can say about Ken was he was a wonderful man,” Kyle said. “He was just a really, really, good caring person. He cared about his family, he cared about the people that he was around, the people that he worked with. That was the single biggest thing that sticks out in my mind about what a good man he was.”
The Superior Dome, Vandament Arena and Berry Events Center all opened during Godfrey’s tenure with NMU athletics.
Godfrey’s idea for the NMU Fall Sports Kickoff event, held before the Wildcats’ first home football game of the season, was recognized in 2008 by the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators with the inaugural National Community Engagement Award of Excellence and again in 2009-10 by the GLIAC with the Community Engagement Award.
The 2009-10 season was also when three team sports – volleyball, hockey and women’s basketball – reached the NCAA tournament while the men’s and women’s Nordic ski teams as well as the indoor and outdoor track and squads raced in the NCAA championships.
Soccer made its first NCAA tournament appearance a year later.
“Every decision Ken made during 32 years working for the university focused on what was best for students, student-athletes and student-employees,” said current NMU athletic director Forrest Karr, who followed Godfrey as NMU’s AD and worked with him in the CCHA as AD at Alaska-Fairbanks. “His passion for NMU was second to none and he made our community a better place to live, study and work.”
In addition to his duties as AD, Godfrey served as the special assistant to the NMU president, chair of the CCHA Executive Committee and was a part of the GLIAC Executive Committee and National Intramural Recreational Sports Association. Outside of NMU, he was a member of the Marquette Kiwanis Club, Lake Superior Community Partnership Board of Directors and the Recreation Tourism Commission.
“Ken remains the most ardent Wildcat fan in existence,” former NMU president Les Wong said in an interview with NMU Sports Information Manager Calvin Larson prior to Saturday’s hall of fame ceremony. “His mark on NMU and the athletic program will remain a cornerstone of the rich history of the university. He created and integrated a high performing athletic program with the academic and student life found on campus – A rare achievement for anyone involved in college sports.”
Godfrey was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Oct. 18, 2010, forcing him to go on medical leave until he attempted to return to work part time in August of 2011. He stepped down as AD on Jan. 19, 2012 due to complications from graft versus host disease, but remained on as a special assistant to the president.
Godfrey is survived by his wife, Kathie, two sons – Ken and Keith – two daughters – Kristine and Kimberly – and four grandchildren.
“I never knew this place was such a big part of my life,” Godfrey said about NMU in an August 2011 interview with The Mining Journal after beating leukemia while enduring the early stages of graft versus host disease. “I put it very high in things and there were times I probably neglected my family, although they’ve been great. All four of my kids graduated from (NMU). Sometimes you have to step back and get away from things and again, with given a second chance in life, it makes you look at things differently.
“I have a real appreciation for every day, for every minute and everything like that,” Godfrey said in the August 2011 interview. “This may also sound crazy, but if I die, drop dead today, I’d go a happy person. And my wife doesn’t like to hear that or my family, but it’s reality. I’ve faced reality. When you get a second chance, you look at things a lot different and you want to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Canale Tonella Funeral Home in Marquette. Visitation will be held Tuesday from noon-2 p.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church at 305 W. Magnetic St. in Marquette, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellen