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Carl A. Ikels, who spent more than half-a-century protecting the Harvard campus first as a watchman, then as a police officer and lastly as an Adams House security guard, died last Sunday, April 27, of pneumonia. He was 93.
Ikels was remembered yesterday by friends and family during an hour-long service at Memorial Church’s Appleton Chapel. A portrait at the service showed Ikels with a half-scowl on his face—an expression his daughter, Charlotte F. Ikels ’64, said was appropriate.
It was “a skeptical and challenging presentation befitting a Harvard police officer,” she said.
Throughout the service yesterday, three members of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) Honor Guard stood at attention in their sparkling dress uniforms, their silver badges adorned with a black ribbon in mourning.
Ikels was born in St. Louis, but lived in Cambridge the rest of his life, growing up between Central Square and Kendall Square, and graduating from Cambridge Rindge technical school.
He attended Harvard for two years and studied electrical engineering but never graduated.
His professional career at Harvard began with a job helping out in the biology labs before he took a position as a watchman.
“It was supposed to be a temporary position, but it ended up as lifetime employment,” his daughter said.
Ikels’ career as a police officer traced the development of the University police from the loose confederation of watchmen that existed during the 1930s, through the founding of HUPD during World War II and the department’s professionalization in the 1960s and 1970s.
Former HUPD Capt. George L. Walsh said he remembers Ikels as a quiet and diligent officer. He explained that Ikels had taken after another old Irish Harvard police officer, John Fitzgerald, who lived by the motto, “Keep your mouth shut and say nothing.”
“That was Carl. ‘Keep your mouth shut and say nothing,’” Walsh recalled. “He just did his job.”
Retired HUPD Officer George Downing said that Ikels, whose brother, Richard, was also on the force, was always efficient and eminently helpful.
Catherine Ikels remembered that when she was an undergraduate at Radcliffe in the early 1960s, her father often worked the front desk at the HUPD headquarters, which was then in the basement of Grays Hall, dealing with traffic tickets and stolen bikes.
“I’d come in and get in the back of a long line of people, and he’d point at me and ask, ‘You in the back, what do you want?’ I’d reply that I was there to report a stolen bike and he’d sigh and say ‘Okay, those forms are out back; I’ll have to show you where they are.’ Then we’d walk out back and be able to chat for a short while,” she said.
Family members recalled that any journey with Ikels resulted in a “policeman’s tour of Cambridge.” With his long service and excellent memory, he could provide running commentary on where crimes and fires had occurred throughout the city. “He was always pointing out ‘Someone got robbed there,’ ‘There was a fire in that building,’ or something like that,” recalled his grandson, Frederick B. Ikels, a Cambridge firefighter.
Ikels first retired from serving as the HUPD sergeant who oversaw operations on Harvard’s Longwood campus in the early 1970s.
However, as his daughter explained, “he found that retirement did not suit him,” and after a couple of years he returned to the University as a security guard at Adams House. He retired for good in 1984.
Ikels was always educationally-oriented, family members said. His house had books in every room—even the kitchen—and he delighted in building his collection and sharing it with others.
“You couldn’t leave his house without a book in your hand,” his grandson joked yesterday.
Evident in Ikels’ book collection was his love of history, which spanned his entire life—as a senior at the Rindge he won the Abraham Lincoln Medal for history—but became more pronounced after his military service in World War II.
During the war, he took a brief hiatus from the University to enlist, joining the 1258th Engineer Combat Battalion in General George Patton’s Third Army, where he saw action in England, France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.
His grandson said that he treasures the many hours they spent together watching shows and movies about World War II on the History Channel.
Frederick Ikels joked that his father had also lived a lot of history—he was the only person who remembered the Cambridge Fire Department’s horse-drawn fire apparatus from the early 1900s, he said.
“I admired him for being a police officer. I admired him for his service during the war, but I admired him most for being an outstanding grandfather,” Frederick Ikels said.
His family also recalled his love of games and the his enduring passion for the Red Sox.
He is survived by his daughter, grandson, six nieces and three nephews. His wife, Gertrude M. (O’Brien) Ikels, a long-time employee of Harvard University Dining Services, passed away in 1998 at age 79, and his son, Frederick P. Ikels, a Cambridge firefighter, died unexpectedly in 2001 at age 49.
A testament to his devotion to Harvard and his emphasis on education, his body, like that of his older brother’s, was donated to Harvard Medical School for teaching purposes.
—Staff writer Garrett M. Graff can be reached at email@example.com.
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