Wheeling bicycling legend Phyllis Harmon dies at age 99

Phyllis Harmon, whom some referred to as the "Grand Dame of Bicycling," died last week at the age of 99.

Harmon was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2009 and rode her bicycle all over the country and the world, but in the Northwest suburbs she was known for founding the Wheeling Wheelmen Club and starting the Harmon Hundred, an annual 100-mile ride.

"She was an amazing lady, and her spirit lives on," said Pam Kaloustian, publicity chair for the Wheeling Wheelmen. The Harmon Hundred, which began in 1970, will be held Sept. 11 this year.

Harmon was born in Chicago in 1916. At 12, she purchased her first bicycle for $28 she had saved from baby-sitting, according to an article about Harmon's life from the Wheelmen.

"She soon realized that her bicycle could take her everywhere, and cycling became her life," the article said.

A few years later she did her first long ride, an 80-mile trip from Chicago to Wisconsin, and by 18 she was touring 200 miles a week.

"Phyllis blazed the trail and encouraged others to follow. Female cyclists were rare, and she was frequently the only woman riding with a group of men," the article said.

She later joined or helped create several bicycle clubs around the country. She served as the editor of the newsletter for the League of American Wheelmen (now called the League of American Bicyclists) for more than 30 years, including during World War II, when she made sure members got their copies while serving overseas. She also served the organization as a historian, office staffer, treasurer, executive vice president and executive director. In 1985, the league established the Phyllis Harmon Volunteer of the Year Award to recognize extraordinary contributions to cycling.

Age was never a setback for Harmon, who continued cycling into her later years. Starting at age 64, Harmon led seven three-week bicycle tours across New Zealand. At 67, she rode across Luxembourg and France. At 73, she rode more than 3,300 miles across the United States, from Los Angeles to Boston, in seven weeks. That same year she won three gold medals and one bronze in the Senior Olympics in Arizona and Illinois, according to the Wheelmen article.

Harmon's last ride was at age 95, on Mother's Day in 2011, when she rode 10 miles on a recumbent bike.

Harmon retired to Florida in 2003 but visited the Harmon Hundred in 2014 to celebrate as the Phyllis Harmon Path in Wheeling was dedicated in her honor.

"She was a true inspiration and visionary for the world of cycling," Kaloustian said.

Harmon died Aug. 26 and was preceded in death by her son Thomas Hursthouse and first husband, Wilfred Hursthouse. She is survived by her second husband, Willard Harmon; her children Nancy, Bette, Phil, Carol and Jan; her stepchildren Carol, Roger and Jim; 11 grandchildren; and 48 great-grandchildren. Harmon's family will hold a memorial service in Tampa, Florida, on Oct. 14, which would have been her 100th birthday.

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