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Bicycling loses major figure

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We were saddened to hear the news of the recent death of Phyllis Harmon, a vital figure in promoting bicycling  — not just in Chicagoland, but in the entire nation. 

Among her many honors were getting inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, having a trail named after her in Wheeling and getting inducted to the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation Hall of Fame (CBF changed its name to the Active Transportation Alliance in 2008.) 

In 2006, Harmon was inducted to the CBF Hall of Fame for her work with helping our fledgling organization get off the ground. Six years ago during Active Trans’ 25th anniversary, we interviewed Harmon about her role in the founding of CBF and reviving the League of American Bicyclists. The interview is now posted on Wheeling Wheelmen's website. 

Following Harmon’s death, the Wheeling Wheelmen sent out an article documenting Harmon’s tireless efforts in getting more people biking and her support of bike clubs and advocacy organizations. 

Here are excerpts from the article: 

Phyllis W. Harmon, one of the most influential people in the history of American bicycling, passed away peacefully on August 26, 2016, surrounded by her loving family. She was 99.  

Phyllis had a long history of tireless dedication to bicycling and promoting bicycle-friendly communities. In the 1930s, she helped create a number of bicycle clubs and nurtured advocacy organizations, including the League of American Wheelmen, now called the League of American Bicyclists. She served as editor of the league's monthly bulletin for more than 30 years, singlehandedly producing and editing the magazine on an IBM Selectric typewriter that she depended upon until her death. 

In 1964, Phyllis was instrumental in reviving the league after a dormant period. She served the organization in every role: volunteer, office staff, historian, treasurer, executive vice president, and interim executive director (a position she held for four years). 

An article in the league’s newsletter in 2003 called her “the heart and soul of the league” as well as “the league’s most valuable player, a combination of Lance Armstrong, the Energizer Bunny, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Winston Churchill, all rolled up into one indomitable spirit.” 

Harmon was a resident of the Chicago region for most of her life. In 1970, she founded the Wheeling Wheelmen Bicycle Club, where she organized, promoted and participated in the Harmon Hundred, a yearly bicycling event that continues to this day.  

In 2003, Harmon retired to Seminole, Florida, and in 2009 was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. Her last bike ride was on Mother’s Day, 2011, at age 95 – riding ten miles. 

In 2014, Harmon was honored at the dedication of the Phyllis Harmon Trail in Wheeling, Illinois. A plaque at the entry point reads, “Phyllis Harmon Bicycle & Pedestrian Path – dedicated in recognition of her tireless work to promote access to cycling for all.”  

Often called the grande dame of American bicycling, Harmon has been identified as one of the 25 people who changed bicycling in the nation. 

Harmon has left a lasting legacy in the world of bicycling. Especially for her work creating and nurturing clubs and advocacy organizations, we are greatly indebted.