TC at Work: Wavely Cannady | Teachers College Columbia University

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TC at Work: Wavely Cannady

The Heart of TC has been powering the College for 45 years
In 1965, a peach tree grew in the middle of TC’s campus, in the courtyard behind what used to be the Macy Annex and is now Thorndike. Back then, it was not unusual to see faculty, students and staff strolling by to pluck a snack.

That’s just one of the many unusual TC facts catalogued by Wavely Cannady during his 45 years working for the College. His recollections conjure a TC where everyone seemed to know everyone, regardless of department or function. “We’d all go out dancing together—the secretaries, the personnel,” he says. “Times were different.”

Cannady’s extensive knowledge of TC’s inner workings extends to the College’s physical being, as well. As boiler room engineer, Cannady is the guardian of the utility plant—the energy source for the entire College, from the main campus to the new residence on 122nd Street. In overseeing the day-to-day operations of the boiler and chiller absorber, he literally has his hand on the pulse of TC.

It’s demanding work, requiring skill and precision. The core of the job is about managing the flow of steam, which is the source for power, heat and hot water. With the state-of-the-art equipment the College has installed in recent years, Cannady, who has a degree in engineering, can do it all himself—but he fondly recalls the days when TC used a high-pressure plant, which required a nine-person team on duty seven days a week.

A native of Spring Hope, North Carolina, Cannady traveled the world with the U.S. Navy prior to coming to TC, visiting destinations as far flung as Pakistan, Turkey and the Rock of Gibraltar. His last stop was in Cuba, in the early ‘60s, just before the Bay of Pigs invasion. From there, Cannady returned to Virginia, to work in the Norfolk Naval Ship Yard. He left to sell cars for the father of a co-worker in Flint, Michigan, but stopped in New York City on the way to see relatives. He ended up liking the Northeast so much, he stayed.

Cannady first set foot in the halls of Teachers College in 1965, at the suggestion of his first cousin, Carol O’Grady, who worked here at the time. He started out as a custodian, then worked on the refrigeration team after going to vocational school to learn that trade. During that period, he struck up a close friendship with Kenneth Herrold, a psychology professor (and later, professor emeritus) who studied the dynamics of group behavior. Herrold hired Cannady to conduct follow-up interviews with former research subjects who lived in Harlem, offering him a $50 bonus for every person Cannady could track down. Cannady also sat in on Herrold’s classes.

“I always managed to get into the conversation,” he says with a grin. “I have a lot of opinions.”

Finally, Herrold offered Cannady a full-time job as a research assistant. But at just about the same moment, the College invited him to join the team at the power plant. After taking a weekend to reflect, Cannady chose the power plant. He had been the boiler tech on a ship in the Navy and had a flair for it—and what he didn’t know, he could figure out. He aced the test he had to take before the job was his—changing a valve on a four-piston air compressor, using only a list of parts for a guide—and won not only a new position but also an engineering school education on TC’s dime. He’s never regretted his choice.

Over the years, Cannady has moonlighted as boiler technician in a downtown high-rise; at a secondary school in the Bronx; and at Marymount College in Tarrytown. Wherever he’s gone, he’s earned a reputation as a dedicated worker.

“When you’re going to sweep the streets, you may as well sweep them clean,” he says, quoting Martin Luther King.
Still, he never seriously thought about going anywhere else.

“TC is a good place,” says Cannady who has served as the Shop Steward for the Local Teamsters Union since 1979. “If you’re good to TC, TC is good to you.”

Cannady’s fondest recollections of TC involve people who have made the College a welcoming place. He was especially close with the late John Fischer, who served as the College’s President from 1962 to 1974, and his wife, frequently lunching with the couple. He also admired Russell Reed, who worked as the College’s Controller. Having come “straight from the coal mines” of West Virginia, Reed liked to tour the plant regularly, bringing pastries and chatting with staff. “He was a really nice guy—we knew he was coming by the smell of his cologne,” Canady quips.
The political tenor of the ’60s and ’70s also stands out in Cannady’s memory. In one particularly vivid moment, he saw a TC faculty member streaking across campus—an act of protest that prompted Canady to “run the other way,” he says, laughing.

Even after 45 years, Cannady still doesn’t talk about retirement. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says of his work. “I’m still here.”

Published Friday, Nov. 19, 2010


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