Spencer machinist receives rare honor

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 21, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
At first, John Kehoe said he was surprised by what he found in the union record books.
He’s the financial secretary of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 263.
Part of his job is to track and honor members, both active and retired, on the anniversary of their membership.
And there on the roll in front of him was the name J.C. Hardister of Salisbury, a retiree from Norfolk Southern Railway.
Seventy-four years ago, Hardister got his start as an apprentice machinist at the Southern Railway shops in Spencer.
He was one of the earliest members of the local machinist’s union lodge.
And at 94, he’s still on the union’s books, a member in good standing and the oldest member on record.
“We figured 70 years of service is worth celebrating,” union local President Jim Sabol said.
In a weekend ceremony at Trinity Oaks Assisted Living, where Hardister lives, union members, family and friends honored his years of service to the railroad and his fellow workers.
And Sabol handed Hardister his 70-year pin, one of only a handful ever presented by the IAMAW.
“I tell you, the Lord’s been good to me,” Hardister said. “I worked 42 years for the railroad.”
And, Sabol said, only half-joking, “He looks like he would put on a hard hat and go back to work Monday morning.”
Hardister was based in Spencer from the time he started working in 1936 until the railroad closed down operations there in the late ’70s.
Sabol, Kehoe and other union members and employees at Norfolk Southern’s roadway shop in Charlotte came to Salisbury to honor Hardister.
Sabol told guests that it was an honor for him and other members of the IAMAW to know one of the men who helped the union get started.
Hardister was a safety committee chairman for the railroad in the latter part of his career.
On his watch, safety became a major focus for the Norfolk Southern.
For Hardister, it was personal: His father, Cleveland Hardister, was also a railroader. He was killed in an accident at the Spencer repair shop.
Hardister married the former Dorothy Julian in 1938.
Together, they had three children.
Today, Hardister’s descendants include four grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
One of his granddaughters, Kim Hardister Riddle, reminisced about going to Spencer with her grandfather and playing on one of the locomotives.
“There are a lot of old railroad stories, and he loves to share them,” Riddle said. “We have this lovely man who spoiled us extremely rotten.”
In addition to his years of service to Norfolk Southern, Hardister also had a part in Rowan County history.
He was one of the first local men drafted for service in World War II.
Hardister told the story of how he went back to work after lunch and found a Salisbury Post photographer waiting for him there, and news already spreading that his number had come up.
Barbara Hardister Mitchell was married to Hardister’s son, the late Jay Hardister.
“(J.C.) is my father-in-law, and always will be,” she said.
She told of how she and Jay used to meet the elder Hardister when J.C. was traveling back and forth to Atlanta on railroad business.
“He’s the epitome of a great man,” Mitchell said.
In addition to his pin and a certificate honoring his years of membership, Sabol and other members gave Hardister gifts from Norfolk Southern and the union.
They also invited him to come and visit the workers at the Charlotte roadway shop — carrying on the work that Hardister himself used to do.
Kehoe said that the current economy has left many workers in low spirits.
He said that’s why the union wanted to be sure to honor Hardister, whose years of service exemplify dedication.
For Hardister himself, the afternoon meant smiles and warm memories of those years working for the railroad.
“I didn’t realize what a wonderful time I had until after I retired,” he said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.