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RON HARDWICK AND THE SKILLS ONE DEVELOPS AS TIME ROLLS ON
It is true that you never really know someone’s whole story.
Ron Hardwick is 75 years old, but over the phone, and arguably in person, you would peg him in his early sixties tops. Over these 75 years, he has learned, seen and discovered much, some aspects well-known to those around and others more on the back burner.
He described himself as a professional photographer in the sense that people have paid money for pictures he took. Drawn to ghost towns or landscapes, his photographs hang in his home like wallpaper.
Hardwick has a 27-foot vertical antenna in his backyard. His wife, Susan, shares her quilting room with him so he can work on his radio in the same area. As a HAM, a colloquial name for an amateur radio enthusiast, he took a qualification test under controlled conditions and worked on transmitting frequencies within set parameters.
His voice flies on sound waves to different corners of the world. “For me, it’s being able to talk and find somebody that I can find and contact. Generally, it’s just a salutation,” Hardwick said of what these radio conversations consist of.
This hobby is more in line with Hardwick’s career. He went into the Navy as an electronics technician, which evolved into a job with the Department of Defense.
This interest was attributed to a great high school teacher, like the beginning to many coming of age movies. “She just cued my interest and it stuck with me my entire career,” Hardwick said.
During this period of his life, Hardwick was a self-professed ‘working stiff.’ He worked hard to provide for his family and to be able to later retire and support his community. At the DOD, Hardwick worked on aircrafts and weapon systems—M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and support weapons. This job took him around the country and he eventually retired in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2000.
“We all come from different areas,” Hardwick said, a theme from this conversation. Sometimes peoples’ backstories do not always match what the eyes can see.
The Madison Valley Caring and Sharing Food Bank votes on its Board members each year and Hardwick has been elected president multiple times. The couple first came to Ennis in 2000 and stayed a month, then longer and eventually fulltime after Hardwick’s 38-year working career. He got involved with the food bank because he recognized its importance in the community.
All elected Board members put in the work to keep the food bank running. Hardwick maintains dairy products, replacing eggs, margarine and bread and makes sure those options are always available. “He keeps all of the produce on a weekly basis. He works with Madison Foods to keep all the perishables available,” Jennifer Doney, board member, said about Hardwick. “He’s our go-to guy to make sure everything is in good repair.”
Replacing light bulbs, changing lock combinations, replenishing batteries and training volunteers to their level of comfort fall under the volunteer description, too. The latter component became particularly important as the coronavirus set in. Hardwick wanted to make sure volunteers were participating in ways they felt safe.
“We were ramped up ready to go for about a 300% increase, but it did not happen,” Hardwick said, figuring the increase was closer to 10 or 20%. The pride of the Madison Valley may be the culprit here. People tend to not want to ask for help if they can avoid it.
“We’re here,” Hardwick reminded them.
Madison Valley Sharing and Caring extends from Pony to Virginia and Nevada City and aims to focus its efforts on the Madison Valley. Of course, they would not turn anybody away if they were hungry. Hardwick noted that occasionally they offer sustenance to those just passing through.
“We’re sort of mandated by that community to support everybody in it,” Hardwick said.
That community is the community of the Madison Valley—generous, gracious and humble—that the food bank is indebted to for its ability to provide. It is almost a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ scenario. The food bank would not exist as it is without the valley and the valley would not have the provisions available without the food bank.
“The neighbor helping neighbor thing in our community is so outstanding. It is absolutely fantastic,” Hardwick said.
To emphasize this, he told a story about the owner of Montana Trout Stalkers and Madison River Fishing Company donating a drift boat, worth $10,000, to the food bank. The plan was to use it as an auction item, but the state of Montana labeled that gambling, Hardwick said.
Hardwick had already signed the paperwork and was about to turn it back to the owner, when he was presented with a check for the amount. “That’s typical,” he said.
“It’s such a unique place that you wanted to be part of it. You wanted to be part of the community and this was one thing I could do on an individual basis to support the community.”