In Appreciation

‘Bradley Means Everything to Me’ 

Following up on a 1-inch ad in an art magazine led to a life-changing experience for Bill Hardin ’50. After establishing his own sign company in 1969, the entrepreneur decided in 1978 to follow his dream to New York and learn portrait painting from American portrait artist John Howard Sanden.

“That was the beginning of the greatest learning experience of my life,” said the engineering major who minored in art. “Sanden taught portraiture from the concept to actually painting a complete oil portrait from beginning to end — a rare treat. I revered him and the quality of his artwork.”

Hardin quickly pointed out that his Bradley Experience was life changing, as well. A lifelong Peorian who grew up on Cooper Street adjacent to campus, he graduated from Manual High School, where his father, Frank Hardin ’30, taught for 27 years. Hardin believed he would follow in his father’s footsteps as an educator. However, his architectural drawing professor at Bradley recommended him first to Caterpillar Inc. for illustrating the parts catalog and then to Foster Electric to apply his drawing and illustration talents. Hardin then remained in the sign business for more than 65 years.

“My father-in-law, Chris Hoerr, helped me establish my own business that I operated for more than 45 years,” Hardin said. “Now, my son and grandson have an opportunity at Hardin Signs, and I love that.”

Hardin and his late wife, Marian Hoerr Hardin ’48, met on a blind date. She was the first president of Chi Omega, and he was a Sigma Chi. Married 65 years, they worked together in the family business for over 30 years. Hardin described with fondness how when he was finishing the background of his paintings, Marian would walk into the studio, pick up a paintbrush and make one small brushstroke, saying, “Now, it’s OK. You have my contribution and approval.”

The Hardins are a four-generation legacy family. Two of their three children graduated from Bradley: Jim Hardin ’73 and Joan Hardin Weiser ’80 MM ’84, as did grandson Brent Nohl ’05. Hardin’s brother, Norton Hardin, was trained at Bradley’s Horology School, and Hardin said his sister, Betty Hardin ’40, “took every art class Bradley offered.”

Gift Planning

Bradley’s strength is due in part to bequests received from our thoughtful alumni and friends. You can make a bequest for Bradley in your will, trust or by making us a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement assets. You can also establish a stream of income for yourself and loved ones by establishing charitable remainder trusts, charitable gift annuities, or remainder interests in residences and farms. To learn more about the benefits of long-term gift planning, contact Duffy Armstrong Farrell, director of gift planning, at (309) 677-3661 or email her at To explore gift planning with Bradley on your own, visit Details on The 1897 Associates also are available at this site.

“Education with excellent professors is so important,” remarked the 1993 Bradley Centurion. “When you have the right teachers, it helps immeasurably. What I learned at Bradley enhanced my business. Bradley has been a big part of my life.” 

The Hardins have been generous to the University for decades. Their unrestricted annual gifts to the Bradley Fund, and other support for the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service, WCBU, the Braves Club, and numerous scholarships and academic programs, are exemplary. Hardin became a member of The 1897 Associates with a bequest for Bradley in his will in 1992. In addition to all the gifts he has helped inspire, he continued his planned giving by establishing charitable gift annuities that provide him income for life. Although these gifts continue to make a significant impact, Hardin decided he wanted “to give something special to Bradley, and the best way to do it was to bequeath our home.”

Among his many gifts to the University, Hardin’s portraits provide him the greatest pleasure as they virtually document the history of Bradley. Sharing anecdotes associated with each painting, he told how his first portrait for the University was created to compete with a Door County artist being considered to paint a portrait of benefactors Jack and Mary Hartmann. Hardin asked then-President Martin Abegg ’47 HON ’93 if he could paint a portrait of Lydia Moss Bradley to show him his artistic abilities. Hardin “won the competition,” took photos of the couple at their home and began painting. Although Jack Hartmann didn’t live to see the finished portrait, Mary was grateful and cherished it for more than 15 years. The portrait now hangs in the building that bears their name, the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. 

 “I have painted at least 30 portraits of people affiliated with Bradley,” Hardin acknowledged. “Bradley means everything to me.” In recognition of his paintings, Hardin received the President’s Award in 2001.

Gary Anna ’75, Bradley’s vice president for business affairs, expressed the warm feelings the Bradley family holds for the Hardins: “President Martin ‘Jerry’ Abegg, Dr. Ian Sturrock, and every president, fundraiser and employee of Bradley since have enjoyed benefits from the work, engagement and love expressed for Bradley by Bill and Marian. The portraits Bill has painted through the years and their impact on potential donors have made a significant difference to the University and in our heritage.”

“I credit my mentor, Jerry Abegg, with everything,” Hardin said with emotion. “When I surprised him with his portrait, he had a tear in his eye and was speechless. It has been my pleasure bringing to life almost 180 special people I have had the privilege of meeting — or remembering the many other important historical figures I chose to paint. Now, this is an education!”

— Photo courtesy of Hardin: Self-portrait by William F. Hardin ’50; Marian Hoerr Hardin ’48: Olan Mills.