The life of John G. Hardin was typical of many Texans who came to the state with little or nothing and remained for the rest of their lives. John G. Hardin was born in the Mississippi in 1854. His family relocated to Tennessee shortly thereafter. When he reached the age of 21, he came to Texas on a visit with his father. His father returned to Tennessee while John remained.
Educated in Tennessee as a schoolteacher, he soon found employment on a farm in Johnson County and also taught school. His first wife was the former Susan Cordelia Adams who had been a student of his in one of his early classes. For a few years, they lived near Cleburne before relocating to what is now Wichita County. In addition to farming their small 127 acre site, they operated a general store not far from the Red River. Their first home was a dugout occupied by the couple, Susan’s mother and their young daughter Dovie Eugene. It was not an easy life. Dovie would die in 1881 before she reached age three. Two years later, John and Cordelia’s unnamed infant son died, and was followed by Cordelia who died a week later. All three are buried in Burkburnett Memorial Cemetery in Wichita County.
In 1888, Hardin would go on to marry the former Mary Catherine Funk. The couple continued to live and prosper, accumulating land holdings of some 6,000 acres. Around 1918, the oil boom reached the Burkburnett area. Noted for their generosity, the couple reportedly forgave numerous mortgages that they held securing farms and ranches in the Burkburnett area so that the borrowers also could benefit from their own oil income. The Hardins also funded local area parks, churches and schools also benefiting Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Mary-Hardin Baylor in Belton, Abilene Christian College, McMurray and Howard Payne College. They also donated funds to Buckner Baptist Children’s Home in Dallas and were instrumental in the establishment of Hardin College, a four year school now known as Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.
The story of the Hardin-Simmons contribution is told by former university president Jefferson Davis Sandefer. He had become acquainted with the Hardins as early as 1923 and approached them about supporting the university, then known as Simmons University. The couple had previously made Buckner Baptist Children’s Home and Baylor contributions and Sandefer felt it was appropriate to contact them on behalf of Simmons, presenting to them the accomplishments and religious orientation of the school. The Hardins were impressed and eventually donated almost one million dollars to the school at a time when the funds were sorely needed. In recognition of the gifts, “on its own initiative and with out the knowledge of Mr. and Mrs. Hardin” the school’s board of directors voted to change the name of the university to Hardin Simmons University.
Mary Hardin died in 1936 at the age 76. John Hardin followed her in death in 1937 and is buried with the rest of the family in Burkburnett Memorial Cemetery. The Hardin’s philanthropy continues to provide benefits to others.
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