Daily Archives: February 20, 2010

A passion for cats, music and Bluffton University

Except for public schoolteachers and farmers, it is the rare individual who spends her whole working life at the same organization. Rarer still for one to remain at the same institution for 45 years. So at a recent annual President’s Dinner at Bluffton University, there was true cause for celebration.

There were the usual 5-10-15-20-25-30 year honors, but only one employee had reached 45 years. Ironically, she is the only person on campus who knew what previous employees had been there for more than 45 years. As she walked to the podium, President Jim Harder made the comment that she is the person he always calls to answer questions about the university that no one else can answer. Not even the history books can top her.

Sue Hardwick began working at Bluffton University soon after her graduation from business school. She’s moved from department to department, serving several academic deans and presidents. Over the years, she’s seen the movement from manual to electric typewriters, dial phones to the current (complicated) phone system, to today’s computer system. Through it all, she’s cheerfully learned the new skills that accompany each advancement in technology.

But watch her take notes. I guarantee you won’t be able to read them. She still maintains the one skill that most of us have never attempted (indeed, may not even be familiar with) — shorthand. Real shorthand. She jokes that she can write whatever she wants and no one else will know.

Sue has a wonderful, self-deprecating wit, and has a passion for music and small, fluffy four-legged creatures. An organist for longer than she’s worked at Bluffton, she spends her Sunday mornings at the keyboard of the organ at St. John’s UCC.

Clearly, though, she reserves a large part of her heart for cats. Not just one little cat, but many…so many that she’s a bit embarrassed to tell anyone how many actually inhabit the home she shares with her husband. More importantly, she rescues every cat that appears on her doorstep, as well as all of those who appear homeless on the campus. You can bet that every cat found on campus eventually gets dropped off on Sue’s desk — literally.

She spends countless hours posting signs, paying for advertisements, and making calls to find a.) the owner or b.) someone willing to adopt. She pleads, cajoles and begs others to take on the furry creatures. If no home is found — she takes them. Who knows how much of her salary goes into cat care — including vet visits, shots, even surgery?

We live in a small town. Word travels quickly. A few days ago, sirens sounded when a local business owner arrived at her store to find her ceiling threatening to collapse. Inside the store are two crates housing kittens waiting for new owners and a large bunny, the store’s mascot. Sue’s immediate question to me was whether the kittens and bunny were rescued. The relief on her face was palpable when she learned that the animals were first to be removed from the store — even before the expensive stuffed collectible versions

Therefore, it came as no surprise to those attending the dinner at which she was honored for her 45 years that Sue had requested nothing for herself. But tradition is tradition. One must be honored in some way. After 45 years, Sue knew that. So she told the administration to make a donation in her honor to the local pet adoption agency — which they did. But still. Sue didn’t leave the podium without one small but very appropriate item. A tiny gold cat pin, which of course made its way to work with her the next day — a reminder not only of her longtime loyalty to the university but more of her true passion.