Veteran Sterling House director remembered

Mary Hardy instrumental in growth of community center

Mary Reyes Hardy will be remembered for her longtime dedication to the Sterling House Community Center.

Hardy, a longtime town resident and executive director of Sterling House for 34 years, died on Jan. 9 at her home at Academy Hill. She was 101 years old.

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 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, and 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 her 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.’”

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 said, “We didn’t have a lot of money most of the time. But we always had a good time.”

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.

Current Executive Director Amanda Meeson noted that a group of employees had visited Hardy at her home in early December 2017 to help mark her 101st birthday the previous month.

“Mary always brightened up when we came to visit,” Meeson said, “and she always left us with words of wisdom and encouragement.”

Meeson recalled one visit in late November 2016 on the occasion of Hardy’s 100th birthday. At that time, Hardy was closely eyeing Meeson, who had started working at Sterling House just several months before, 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.

A bronze sculpture by James Michael Tripp titled “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 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 a memorial service 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.

Memorial donations may be made to Stratford United Methodist Church, 2600 Main Street, Stratford CT 06615, or to the Sterling House Community Center, 2283 Main Street, Stratford CT 06615.

Mary Hardy as photographed in November 2016 on the occasion of her 100th birthday shown alongside a poster photo of Mary taken from the 1960s.

Mary Hardy as photographed in November 2016 on the occasion of her 100th birthday shown alongside a poster photo of Mary taken from the 1960s.

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