Gene Hardin honored by Alabama Press Association

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Hardin also took over the chamber of commerce from Stanley, although back then, it was located in the basement of the Advocate building.

&uot;Since I was the newest kid on the block, I was it,’ Hardin said. &uot;I think the room we worked out of was about eight feet by ten feet.&uot;

Hardin also served in the Alabama legislature for eight years during the terms of Governors Lurleen B. Wallace, Albert Brewer and George C. Wallace. In 1972 he received the Legislative Conservation Award from the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

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&uot;Being in the legislature gave me some insight into the workings of the legislature and that helped me with the newspaper,&uot; Hardin said. &uot;I don’t know if it improved it or not, but it gave me some insight.&uot;

While in the legislature Hardin sponsored a local bill that has ended up having a significant impact on Greenville and the quality of life of its residents. The bill Hardin sponsored changed ownership of Sherling Lake from the state to the city of Greenville.

&uot;As it turns out, had we not owned that (lake) Cambrian Ridge would not have come to town,&uot; Hardin said. &uot;I thought the city could use it more than the state and since the state wasn’t using it like they should and it was such a beautiful site, we could do better.&uot;

Ralph Stacy, himself a former Advocate staffer and current president of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, said the move to get Sherling Lake in the hands of the city was significant.

&uot;It laid the foundation for when (David) Bronner came in and wanted to do the golf course,&uot; he said. &uot;That one event there has made monumental change in our community. Whether he meant to or not, it was important to the development of Greenville.&uot;

Stacy also recounted how the lessons he learned while working for and associating with Hardin have helped shape his own career.

&uot;I literally learned at the feet of two giants, Buster McGuire and Gene Hardin,&uot; he said. &uot;Mr. H said, ‘okay, facts never hurt.’&uot; &uot;He instilled in me to get the facts, ask the five questions and make it readable. He always made it clear you should say what you should say, make sure people understand it and then stop. I learned a lot from his style of communicating and I had the opportunity and pleasure to learn from some of the best.&uot;

Stacy also said Hardin was Greenville’s biggest cheerleader.

&uot;He was the master of ceremonies,&uot; Stacy said. &uot;He was the one who emceed the events and the beauty pageants and other things. He was that witty person who was always in charge and in control and made events enjoyable by his presence. Whether it was dinner on the grounds or dinner at the state capital, he was equally at ease.&uot;

Not only did Hardin have an impact at home, his influence can be found at Troy State University where he helped establish the Hall School of Journalism.

After being asked by then president Ralph Adams to work with Jimmie Faulkner of Bay Minette on establishing a journalism program, Hardin seized the opportunity to create programs that would train journalism graduates for the realities of the newspaper business.

&uot;When they first talked about establishing a school of journalism at TSU I was teaching at Memphis State,&uot; said Merrill Bankester, who was the journalism school’s former dean before retiring in 1996. &uot;(Gene) was one of the newspaper people who was in direct contact with Dr. Adams, who relied a lot on Gene on how to set up a school of journalism and what kind of leadership the school needed. Adams wanted to set up a program that stayed to the hard facts and Gene fit that mold as an advisor.&uot;

Always active in the community Hardin was named a Jaycee &uot;Man of the Year&uot; and is a 52-year member of the Greenville Lions Club where he was twice elected Lions District Governor. He is a 25-year member of the Greenville Industrial Board and has served as its chairman the past 15 years. He also served one year as interim manager of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development and is past president and current secretary of the Butler County Manufacturers Association.

Former Butler County News owner Roger Pride formed a lifelong friendship with Hardin and recalls how Hardin was able to get things done in Greenville with ease.

&uot;Gene was very instrumental in a lot of good projects for Greenville,&uot; Pride said. &uot;He was a promoter. He could write in such a fashion that he could get things done in a way that people could join in and participate. He kept his city going at a good pace as long as I’ve known him. In a simple way he was a salesman for Greenville.&uot;

Charles Newton, who occupies the legislative chair Hardin use to own in Montgomery, marveled at how Hardin was, and still is, able to rally civic accomplishment in Greenville.

&uot;He’s been active in just about every civic project in Greenville,&uot; Newton said. &uot;The list goes on and on for all the projects he’s been a participant in. Even though he’s retired he hasn’t slowed down. He continues to take on projects for the community.&uot;

A charter member of Woodland Heights Methodist Church, Hardin is currently spearheading the effort of the Greenville Lions Club to erect a World War II memorial on the grounds of the Greenville-Butler County Library.

Hardin’s biggest accomplishment can be found a little closer to home in helping his wife raise their four children; Bill, Laurie, Jean and Mollie.

&uot;He’s the kind of man that has a wide scope,&uot; Nonnie Hardin said. &uot;He loves being involved and he loves people. My daddy was the same way and Gene was trained by daddy.&uot;

His daughter, Mollie Hardin Utley, who served as managing editor in his final years of publisher, said she could think of no one who serves this honor more.

&uot;I think Daddy deserves the Lifetime Achievement Award more than anyone else I can think of,&uot; she said. &uot;He has been a journalist forever and always will be.&uot;

She said her father instilled his love of journalism into her, her sisters and brother and they worked for him of many years.

&uot;We began working at the Greenville Advocate when we were old enough to stand on a Coke crate and insert papers,&uot; she said.

Utley said one of the things she remembers best about her father’s work in the newspaper was something he said often.

&uot;One of my favorite quotes from daddy while at the Advocate was, ‘There is no reason to recreate the wheel every week.

We just need to make it better,’&uot; she said.

Utley added her father always stood out front professionally because he believed in change.

&uot;Under daddy’s leadership, the Advocate was always one of the first in everything,&uot; she said.

&uot;He believed in modernization and the need to improve.

He believe in innovation and believed in keeping pace with advances in the industry or even setting the pace.&uot;

It is clear in talking when talking to Utley about her father that he is her greatest champion, not only professionally, but privately as well.

&uot;It was a privilege to work for my father at The Greenville Advocate, but for me, being his daughter has been an even greater joy,&uot; she said.

Managing Editor Jay Thomas contributed to this report.