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In 1928, at age 12, Harmon purchased her first bicycle, a $28.00 red, single-speed Ernie McKay Special from Ernie McKay's Chicago bike shop. She was one of two girls in her neighborhood with a bicycle and the only one who was allowed to ride her bicycle out of the neighborhood. She soon realized that her bicycle could take her everywhere, and cycling became an important part of her life.
The League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.)
The L.A.W., a national organization for cyclists, was founded in 1880 and actively defended the rights of cyclists until 1902, when the League became dormant. In the 1930s, Dick Wilson, a bicycle industry representative, invited members of the Evanston Bicycle Touring Club to become the first chapter of the inactive L.A.W. Harmon, age 19, joined and immediately began recruiting new members. After learning that three clubs could come together and form a council, she encouraged the Rambler Cycle Club and Oak Park Cycle Club to join with the Evanston club to become the first council in the League. Harmon continued promoting the benefits of membership to bicycle riders all over the country, helping the L.A.W. to become, once again, a national organization. After the war, the proliferation of automobiles and narrow highways left little room on the roads for bicycles. Bicycling was no longer safe or fun, so the League became inactive again in 1955.
Harmon served the organization in every conceivable role as volunteer, office staff, historian, treasurer, executive vice president, and interim executive director (a position she held for four years). She also served as editor of the League's monthly bulletin for more than thirty years, singlehandedly producing and editing the magazine on a green IBM Selectric typewriter.
When the League offices moved to Baltimore in 1979, Phyllis retired from her position as editor. The League's then president, Pete Kutschenreuter, said, "During her tenure as our editor, neither rain, snow, Saturdays, broken wrist, dog bite, or illness kept her from getting out our Bulletin at press time." For much of the League's history, Harmon has been called "the heart and soul of the League" as well as "the League's Most Valuable Player, a combination of Lance Armstrong, the Energizer Bunny, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Winston Churchill, all rolled up into one indomitable spirit." Harmon died in August 2016 at the age of 99.
During her career as an advocate, Harmon held the following positions:
- Writer and Editor of the L.A.W. Bulletin.
- American Bicyclist Magazine Editor Emeritus
- League of American Wheelmen Secretary
- League of American Wheelmen Treasurer
- League of American Wheelmen Office Administrator
- League of American Wheelmen Executive Vice President
- League of American Wheelmen Historian
- League of American Wheelmen Board of Directors
- Director Emeritus on The League of American Bicyclists Board of Directors
- Founder of the Wheeling Wheelmen
- Founder of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance)
- Advisory role with the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, providing advice on how to structure the new organization, publish a newsletter and get the word out about bicycle laws and safety issues.
- Illinois Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee Member
- In 1979, Harmon was awarded the Dr Paul Dudley White Award, the League of American Wheelmen's top national award, honoring individuals who are an "inspiration to others for his or her commitment to the future of bicycling and to significant progress in education, safety, rights, or benefits of bicycling".
- In 1985, the League of American Wheelmen established the Phyllis Harmon Volunteer of the Year Award to recognize individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to bicycling.
- In 2005, she was listed as number 12 in the League of American Bicyclists' Top 25 Change Agents for Cycling, honoring "25 people who indelibly changed the face of cycling in America."
- In 2006, Harmon was inducted into The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation Hall of Fame.
- In 2009, Harmon was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame and is currently the oldest living member.
- In 2013, Harmon traveled to Wheeling, Illinois for the dedication of the Phyllis Harmon Bicycle & Pedestrian Path, an integral connection between two long-established bike trails. Harmon was credited with helping to "renew the status of cycling as a sport, a social activity, and a practical means of transportation."
- Greenfield, John (2014-07-29). Modeshift Volume 4, Issue 2. Active Transportation Alliance. "Phyllis Harmon: "The grande dame of biking". activetrans.org/modeshift/04_02/grande-dame-of-american-cycling. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- McCormick, Patrick, J. (2003). "Phyllis W. Harmon: League MVP". wheelmen.com/phyllis_article.htm. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Sturges, Barbara. "Mission and History". League of American Bicyclists. bikeleague.org/content/mission-and-history. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Stanley, Kameel (2011-05-07). Tampa Bay Times. "Lifelong cyclist, 94, finds her wheels with daughter's help". tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/lifelong-cyclist-94-finds-her-wheels-with-daughters-help/1168455. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Staff (2016-08-31). "Phyllis W. Harmon Obituary". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2016-08-31.
- Terrazas, Carol. "Riding Through Life With No Brakes" (2009-11-22). pr.com/press-release/194838. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Clarke, Andy (2013-03-19). "Women's (Bike) History: Phyllis Harmon". The League of American Bicyclists. bikeleague.org/content/womens-bike-history-phyllis-harmon. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- "Staff". The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin. July 1979: Page 1. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- "National Officers". The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin. September 1979: Page 1. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Clarke, Andy. "Honoring a Friend". American Bicyclist September/October 2009. issuu.com/bikeleague/docs/american_bicyclist_sepoct09/4. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Wheeling Wheelmen. "US Bicycling Hall of Fame". wheelmen.com/USBHF.htm. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Clarke, Andy. Phyllis Harmon. "Change Agents for Cycling". American Bicyclist. Fall 2005: p.14. wheelmen.com/Change_Agents.pdf. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- "Village of Wheeling to Dedicate Phyllis Harmon" (2013-09-26). Pathwheelmen.com/Wheeling_Press_Release_Phyllis_Harmon_Path.pdf. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Phyllis Harmon: League of American Wheelmen (LAW) collection, 1880-2006, bulk 1965-1999, University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston
- "Remembering Phyllis Harmon, the Grande Dame of American Bicycling". League of American Bicyclists, Bicycle Friendly America Magazine, Winter 2017.