End of an era

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Students come together to show war veterans their appreciation

 

By Mark Ambrogi

The moment was not lost on the former students of Indian Creek Elementary School fifth-grader teacher Steve Hardwick.

For the 15th and final time, the Lawrence Township teacher and his former students put a show on July 25 at the 76th Infantry Brigade Armory in Lawrence to honor World War II veterans and, for the last few years, Korean War veterans as well.

“These men and women have made incredible sacrifices,” said Kara Hairston, a recent Lawrence Central High School graduate. “They deserve a big extravagant thank you and any contributions I can make to that process I’m very happy to do so. The students and friends who volunteer their time to put on this tribute have a greater understanding and great appreciation for what it means because they truly are the greatest generation.”

For the past several years, Hardwick played the role of Jack Benny in the United Services Organization show for the veterans. Lawrence North senior Nicole Cordes played Benny’s wife, Mary Livingstone.

“I got a lot more nervous because I knew this was way more important because I knew it’s the last hurrah and I don’t know when I’ll see these men that I’ve known for years or new ones I’ve met, again,” Cordes said.

Cordes said after learning more about the war and seeing these men again left a mark on her heart.

Allie Henry, a 2015 Lawrence North graduate, sang the same song she did after fifth grade.

“It’s one of my favorite memories from elementary school,” Henry said. “It’s very gratifying to talk to them and hear their stories. It makes a difference when you can talk to someone who has been to Normandy and landed on the beach instead of reading it out of a textbook.”

Kaylin Schildemeyer, a recent Cathedral graduate, has been tap dancing for the veterans since after fifth grade. Her younger sister Sarah, a Cathedral sophomore, joined her the last few years.

“I loved doing it for the troops,” Kaylin said.

Final curtain

The veterans turned the tables on Hardwick, paying tribute to him for his dedication. Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup issued a proclamation, declaring July 25 as Steve Hardwick Day.

Indianapolis resident and WWII vet Doug Horth, 92, said Hardwick went the extra mile and beyond to teach his children about the depression and WWII.

“It’s interesting to see how quickly they’ve grabbed that once it was presented to them,” Horth said.

Horth understood why this is the last one and how much work it took to put the show on. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the number of living WWII vets decreases by an average of 492 per day, according to U.S. Veterans Administration figures.

Hardwick, 51, knows what he will miss the most.

“What I will miss is watching the students interact with the veterans, showing their appreciation, showing their love for the veterans,” Hardwick said. “And letting the veterans see there are young people that honor them and appreciate what the World War II and Korean veterans gave for our country. I’ve had middle school, high school and college students come back to help and there is no program without them.”

Alex Navarre, 25, is going into her fourth year as a first grade teacher at Harrison Hill Elementary in Lawrence. She was one of several students from Hardwick’s first class to put on the tribute. At that first show, Navarre paid tribute to her grandfather, Albert Navarre, a medic in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, who attended the first show and has since died. This was the fifth time she helped with the show.

“It’s the end of a little era here,” Navarre said. “I think we’ve done a great thing the last 15 years and Mr. Hardwick has kept it going.”

All about the United Services Organization

Founded: Feb. 4, 1941

Focus: To lift the spirits of troops and their families

Type: Private, congressionally chartered non-profit

Headquartered: Arlington, Vir.

Locations: 160+ centers worldwide

Volunteers: 24,000+

Slogan: United everyone comes home

Website: www.uso.org


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