Mary Reyes Hardy, 101, a long-time resident of Stratford, died peacefully in her home at Academy Hill on January 9, 2018. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 10, at 11 a.m. at Stratford United Methodist Church. Interment will follow at the Congregational Burying Ground behind Stratford library with the public invited to a reception at Sterling House after interment.
Born on November 25, 1916, Hardy was the long-time executive director of The Sterling House Community Center. She was predeceased in 2016 by her beloved husband of 75 years, Vincent L. Hardy. The two were married on the Sterling House grounds in 1942.
The news of Hardy’s passing was met with sadness at Sterling House, where Hardy began her service as a volunteer in 1933 just out of high school. Executive Director Amanda Meeson noted that a small group of employees had just visited Hardy at her home in early December 2017 to help mark her 101st birthday the previous month.
Meeson recalled one visit in late November 2016 on the occasion of Mary’s 100th birthday. At that time, Hardy was closely eyeing Meeson, who had just begun her position at Sterling several months previous, along with the rest of the staff who were visiting. Looking everyone over closely, Mary commented wryly, “You are doing just fine. I can tell.”
Sterling House Community Center was founded in 1932 after Cordelia Sterling bequeathed the family mansion and nine acres of surrounding gardens and grounds to the Town of Stratford to be used as a “community center.” The agency celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2017.
Prompted by her visitors, Hardy remembered that times were not always easy at Sterling House, especially in its early years during the Great Depression of the 1930s. She added, “We didn’t have a lot of money most of the time. But we always had a good time.”
Hardy came to Stratford with her family from New Jersey as a small child, attending Stratford schools. By the time she graduated from Stratford High School she had already become a familiar face at Sterling House, starting in 1933.
In 1942, she married Vincent Hardy, who from that time on would be put to work at Sterling House at various carpentry, painting, HVAC and various other tasks when he wasn’t working at Sikorsky as an engineer.
Mary Hardy eagerly embraced any job needed at Sterling House, including office work, painting, program assistance, as well as flower growing and arrangements. In 1953, Hardy was appointed executive director at Sterling House, and her dedication, caring, influence and leadership positively affected thousands of people in many ways until her retirement in 1987.
A 1977 newspaper article, in marking the 24th anniversary of Hardy’s service as executive director at Sterling House, quoted Mary as saying, “You could say that Sterling House and I grew up together. We have had a lot of joint education, learning a great deal and adjusting constantly to changing times and the changing needs of the community.”
Recalling her first volunteer service in 1933, Hardy said then, “Jobs were so hard to come by. My parents told me to stay with the center and I can still hear my mother saying, ‘Something will come of this.’”
Something certainly did.
Hardy said, “Each year the center became more exciting and more community oriented. Many friends – participants and many volunteers – helped to shape its functions and its destiny, and my destiny.
“There were high points and low points, and sorrows and experiments. But oh yes, there were triumphs.”
Fast-forwarding 53 years later to 1986 and with her retirement looming the following year, Hardy was nostalgic about the 100th anniversary of the Sterling mansion and the two-week “Decorator’s Showcase” event held in September 1986, which she described as “the high point on the mountain in my existence as the executive director.” A gazebo that still stands to the rear of Sterling House was constructed and dedicated to Vincent and Mary, also in 1986.
At the time of her retirement in 1987, she acknowledged, “It is time for a new director with fresh new ideas. The community deserves it – the House deserves it – and I – I have become a volunteer once more.”
A bronze sculpture by James Michael Tripp entitled, “Mary Hardy,” was dedicated on April 6, 1990, and still occupies a prominent landing in the mansion’s library room on the first floor.
Mary and Vincent Hardy were also very involved in many other activities and organizations in the greater Stratford community including the Stratford United Methodist Church where they served in various leadership and church committee capacities for decades.
Friends and the general public are invited to attend the memorial service for Mary Hardy at the Stratford United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 10, to be immediately followed by interment and a reception at Sterling House.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Stratford United Methodist Church, 2600 Main St., Stratford, CT, 06615, or to The Sterling House Community Center, 2283 Main St., Stratford, CT 06615.