By MATT WELLENS
For The Daily News
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, 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.
"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. "His passion for NMU was second to none and he made our community a better place to live, study and work."
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.
Godfrey is survived by his wife, Kathie, two sons - Ken and Keith - two daughters - Kristine and Kimberly - and four grandchildren.
(Matt Wellens is Sports Editor at the Mining Journal)