Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Eleanor got the most out of every one of her years

I hope you live to be 100.

And I hope you reach that milepost in life with the grace, dignity and elan that Eleanor Hardgrove did.

I went to her 100th birthday party at Breckenridge Village in Willoughby last April. She never quite made it to 101, but she sure gave it a good shot.

She was the feistiest centenarian I ever knew. She mingled joyously with the crowd, presided with regal bearing throughout the proceedings, and just to show she retained the spunk she had displayed throughout her magnificent and productive life, she sat in her royal chair at the end of the room — the center of attention — and kicked her foot over her head – several times.

Always the lady, she was wearing a very feminine pair of pink slacks throughout her demonstration of agility.
Her loving sons, Bob and John, came from afar to enjoy and take part in the joyous occasion.

Bob lives in Washington, D.C., and John lives in California. A third son, Jim, lost his life 45 years ago at the age of 21 in an accident near his college, Miami of Ohio in Oxford, on a notorious stretch of highway that has claimed so many young lives that something, something, should be done about it.

There is still a memorial to his life at the West End YMCA in Willoughby. The Y was an important part in the lives of both of his parents.

Eleanor’s late husband, Bob Sr., who died in 1982, founded Hardgrove Realty in Willoughby. He often bragged, with a touch of hyperbole, that he had sold every house on Highland, Waldamere and Glenwood Avenues at least three times.

I know that was a slight exaggeration, because he never sold the house my brother lives in on Glenwood. It was built by my Grandfather Sherman in 1942, and nobody has ever lived there who wasn’t named Sherman or Collins.

But it was no exaggeration when Bob pointed out that he and Eleanor raised three sons on Highland and they all graduated from different high schools without ever having moved from that home.

That was a quirk of timing, because Union High closed, North High opened and then South High was built. But I digress.

Bob’s involvements in the city were so extensive that he was once honored as a Distinguished Citizen by the Chamber.

But Eleanor beat him to the punch. Bob was honored in 1971, but Eleanor won that distinction in 1958, only the second time the award was bestowed, because of her prolific contributions to the community that included being director of Volunteer Services at Lake County Memorial Hospital West, serving as chairman of the Lake County Bloodmobile Program and other involvements that made the area a better place in which to live.

It was Bob who, with Bud Brichford and John Schalois aiding and abetting the process, got me involved with the YMCA in the late 1950s. It was an involvement that never stopped. Within a couple of years (there must have been a noticeable leadership vacuum) the board elected me chairman, whereupon I announced I was not going to be the leader of a group that met in the Armory, no matter how nice the Armory was.

So we set about raising money to build the western branch of he Lake County YMCA. Bob, Bud, John and I spearheaded the process.

We didn’t raise as much as we hoped for, so a few of the board members said let’s put the money we raised in the bank and then hold another fund-raiser.

No way, said Bob, Bud, John and I (and a few others). People didn’t give us $600,000 to put in the bank.
So we spent the next year having the blueprints drawn, and under the skilled leadership of Bill McLaughlin, my successor as chairman (and head of the Willoughby-Eastlake School Board), we built the first stage of the West End YMCA, which has been added to several times since then.

That first building was only an office and a swimming pool. In fact, one of the board members, Barney Neville, quit, saying, “This is not a YMCA. It’s nothing but a swimming pool.”

Too bad Barney isn’t around to see it now. It’s a complex to be proud of. Hey, some things take time.

Congressman Bill Stanton broke ground for that first building, and I will never forget the dedication ceremony. We drained the pool and set up folding wooden chairs in the pool and a priest from Eastlake solemnly invoked the Lord’s blessing.

As I look at the West End YMCA now, I get the feeling that the Lord must have believed in us and approved of what we were doing.

Throughout the process, the Hardgroves were deeply involved, both spiritually and with their checkbooks.

A few years later, we started the Lake County YMCA Heritage Club to fund a foundation that would ensure the future viability of the Y.

I give Whitney Evans full credit for starting that organization, which now has assets in the millions.

That project was something Jack Daniels and I were unable to accomplish, but along came Whitney, who worked some magic with the idea.

The club now lists several pages of members. It meets once a year at Kirtland Country Club for dinner and an update on activities.

(You are eligible to join the Heritage Club. And the annual dinner is free. All you have to do is mention the YMCA in your will. Ask me.)

For years after Bob Hardgrove’s passing I would pick up Eleanor at Breckenridge and take her to Kirtland for the annual dinner, which she unfailingly enjoyed, especially mingling among so many long-time friends.

Eleanor was a well-educated women. She had her undergraduate degree from Bucknell University and studied for her master’s in Cleveland at Western Reserve University’s School of Applied Sciences.

She met Bob in 1933, they married in 1935, and when they settled in Willoughby they (both of them) immediately began making their presence felt. And it was all for the better in the rapidly growing city.

Eleanor’s friends knew her as a prize-winning quilter, a tenacious bridge player, a devoted world traveler, a gardener of note and a die-hard Indians fan.

She belonged to more clubs and organizations than I have space to list, the most prominent being Willoughby United Methodist Church, American Red Cross, Fine Arts Association, Willoughby Woman’s Club, Maternal Health Association and of course the Lake County YMCA.

I will never forget her, especially her grace and charm — and her penchant for saying “aaaannnnd” in mid-sentence as she was making an additional point.

She could draw out the word “and” longer than most people can hold their breath.

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