Everyone's Friend

Civic leader Bob Hardwick has built a successful career by taking chances, having faith, giving back and fostering strong relationships.

By Katherine Pyles

To some, Bob Hardwick is a respected community banker. To others, he’s a civic leader committed to improving Huntington. To Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, he’s a faithful member and mission trip leader. To the families and businesses that showcase his artwork, he’s an amateur photographer with a knack for capturing Huntington. To just about everyone who knows him, he’s a friend.

It all started in the 1950s, when Hardwick was fresh out of high school and working the night shift at a service station in Charleston.

“Part of my job was going to the bank every day to make the deposit, and I formed friendships with the bank management,” he says. “Eventually one of them offered me a job.”

Finding what would become his lifelong career at such a young age was “divine providence,” Hardwick says. “It was just meant to be.”

While he climbed the ranks at a number of local banks, Hardwick attended school at Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston) and went on to earn postgraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin and University of Oklahoma. In 1966, he moved from Charleston to Huntington to start a new bank, Valley National Bank, with a man named George Howard.

“I was afraid to leave what was comfortable,” Hardwick admits. “But Bill Powers, who was an inspiration and mentor to me throughout my banking career, told me, ‘In order to get ahead, you’ve got to be willing to make a change. You’ve got to get above the status quo and your comfort level.’ So I took his advice, and I moved to Huntington.”

Hardwick helped launch Valley National Bank, then worked for several years at various regional banks. In 2001, Geoff Sheils approached Hardwick about a new bank in Huntington. Hardwick joined First Sentry Bank as executive vice president and never looked back.

“Joining First Sentry was the best move I ever made,” he says. “The people there are absolutely wonderful. They’ve been so good to me.”

He says Powers’ advice still rings true today: If you don’t love what you’re doing, change it.

“Throughout my career, every day when I’d wake up, I’d think of what I was going to be doing that day and get excited,” Hardwick says. “If you don’t have that feeling, if your work doesn’t give you that excitement, you should probably look around for another job. You’ve got to love what you do.”

The Importance of Relationships

Hardwick says banking is a different industry today than it was when he got started over 50 years ago. Gone are the days of riding the bus to the clearinghouse to settle up in cash with other banks in the area. Still, some things haven’t changed, like the value of relationships.

“I’ve always loved people,” he says. “Being around people is the primary reason I’ve stayed in banking.”

There’s one relationship that’s been of utmost importance to Hardwick, and that’s his 29-year marriage to his wife, Cyndy. He’ll never forget the first time he saw her, walking downtown one morning before work.

“I passed her on the sidewalk and said hello,” he recalls. “Naturally, she caught my eye. The next day, I was at the old Amsbary’s store and saw her again. As soon as I knew I was going to try to talk to her, I started sweating. I was a wreck by the time I got to the front of the store.”

Hardwick introduced himself, and a few days later he called Cyndy to invite her to a movie. She accepted.

“We went to a steak restaurant, and neither one of us touched our food,” Hardwick smiles. “We were just taken by each other. Then we went to a movie called Moonstruck. The next day, I sent her a bouquet of flowers with a note that said, ‘Chris, I am moonstruck.’ The only problem was her name wasn’t Chris.”

That’s just how “moonstruck” he was, he laughs.

The two were married in 1988, joined by Cyndy’s sons, Cory and Chad Harrison, and Hardwick’s sons, Robert and Derek “Dak” Hardwick.

“All the boys are doing very well today,” says Hardwick, a proud grandfather. “They bring me a lot of joy. But what gives me the most joy is knowing they have the Lord in their hearts. That means more than anything to me, because I know they’ll be OK. Whatever happens, they’ll be OK.”

The Hardwicks are members of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, less than a block from where they first bumped into each other on the sidewalk. Cyndy served the church as youth minister, missions minister and day care director before joining Cabell Huntington Hospital in 2012, where she worked as a chaplain and now works in guest relations.

Friendship Means Everything

You’d be hard pressed to find an area of Huntington not touched by Hardwick’s friendship and service. A longtime board member for the YMCA, Hardwick oversaw the dedication of the Phil Cline Family YMCA during his tenure as president. He served as chairman of the Aviation Committee for the West Virginia Public Port Authority, board chair for the St. Mary’s Medical Center Foundation and president of Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA Area.

Under the leadership of Gov. Arch Moore, he was selected for a task force to evaluate West Virginia’s health and human services.

Hardwick, who received the Distinguished West Virginian award in 2010, says his method for determining when, where and how to serve is simple: “I just have to feel like I can contribute,” he says. “If the organization is near to my heart, and I feel there’s something I can contribute, then the answer is always yes.”

A lifelong athlete whose first love was basketball, he says his work at the YMCA has been especially rewarding.

“Our YMCA provides free memberships to disadvantaged youth and seniors with disabilities, and I can’t put into words how important that is to me,” says Hardwick, who also plays tennis and golf. “I can still name every coach I ever had. Those coaches shaped me into who I am today. Everyone deserves the opportunity to play sports.”

A lifetime of work and service has earned Hardwick more than a few friends in Huntington. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015, he says during times of crisis there’s nothing more valuable than friendship.

“Friendship is one of God’s greatest blessings,” he says. “It means everything to me. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I’d probably be a grumpy old man.”

Capturing Huntington

Some know Hardwick as a banker, others as a community leader. Thousands more have seen his artistic side, albeit perhaps unknowingly. An amateur photographer for 20-plus years, Hardwick’s photos of Huntington adorn the walls of numerous Tri-State businesses, including St. Mary’s Medical Center, all of First Sentry’s branches and the offices of the mayor and sheriff.

“Photography brings me a lot of joy,” he says. “When someone sees one of my photos and likes it, it’s just an honor. It really is.”

Hardwick’s photos of Nicaragua, where he’s traveled several times for mission work, capture the hope and spirit of the people there. Likewise, his photos of local treasures like the Memorial Arch and Spring Hill Cemetery’s Healing Field capture the richness of Huntington.

He says photographing the changing seasons at Ritter Park has been one of the highlights of his photography career.

“There’s a quietness to Huntington that’s really special,” Hardwick says. “It’s big enough to provide you with good entertainment and good eateries, but it’s small enough that you still feel like you know everyone. I love that. It’s been a good life here in Huntington. When I see one of my photos hanging up someplace where people are enjoying it, I think, ‘I’m going to be hanging around here for a while.’ And that’s just fine with me.”

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