There were many memories shared and many tears shed around Morrow County this week with the passing of Tom Harden. One special trait remembered was the “Tom Harden wave.”
Whether you were across the room or across the parking lot, when Tom Harden pointed his hand in your direction and waved, you felt noticed and important.
Harden loved people and he loved Morrow County. That came across in many meetings around the county this week. It began at the County Commissioners’ meeting Monday morning when Commissioner, Tom Whiston’s voice broke with the news of Harden’s unexpected death.
Auditor, Pat Davies demonstrated her “Harden wave” at the Chamber Forecast breakfast as she spoke of Harden’s enthusiasm for the county’s development. She said he travelled all around the state and brought back newspapers and ideas from other counties and villages in the hope that they might be used in Morrow County.
At Harden’s Memorial Service, Rev. Deb Bowsher spoke of Harden’s love of people and gave many examples of ways he served people in the community. Bowsher told of several instances when he was able to bring a peaceful solution to an agitated situation by the sheer force of his calm and pleasant nature.
Bowsher called Harden not only a “law enforcement officer,” but also an “officer of the peace.”
In addition to serving as Sheriff for 24 years and County Commissioner for two terms, he served the county on many boards, church committees, United Way and Seniors on Center.
I remember him flipping pancakes at the Saturday morning Presbyterian breakfasts. There was always a smile with his greeting as he asked how many pancakes or sausage you’d like.
It always amazed me that Harden kept his name and private phone number listed in the local phone book – even as sheriff and commissioner. When I asked him about it he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. He said people needed to get a hold of him and it had never caused him a problem.
When we began the campaign for the Morrow County Y, now the Community Center, he threw himself into the project with his whole heart. He could envision what a great place it could be and what an important need it would fill.
Harden’s caring for people continued to surprise us. He attended the Christmas Party for foster kids in the county at Heartland Retreat Center this December. I learned that he and his wife had several foster kids in their home in past years. Morrow County Director of Children’s Services, Sharla O’keefe said that Tom continued to be supportive and advocate for Children’s Services in the county.
While he was at the party he spoke to Heartland Director, Sue Nigh about the horrible condition of the Township Road leading to Heartland. Nigh said she had tried to get it paved for many years without success. Tom said he would make it his mission to get the road paved and the next week organized a meeting with Nigh and Bart Dennison from the Engineer’s office. The next week Tom called me with a report and said he would continue to follow up on the road until it was paved.
At Candidates Night Feb. 4th, Sheriff candidate, Tom Cronenwett spoke with feeling about the example and model Harden was for him. Harden’s desire to be among the people and serve with humble dedication is something he strives to follow.
Something that many of us felt this week was that Tom Harden left us too soon. He also left us with plenty of unfinished business. Guess we’d better get out there with a smile and a wave and get busy
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