FARMINGTON – Native son Rick Hardy has been named the local Wal-Mart’s teacher of the year.
The award comes after a harrowing start to 2006 for Hardy and his family.
On Jan. 29, Hardy fell from his roof while installing heat tape and suffered a massive blow to the head. He was airlifted to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
In retelling the events, Hardy’s wife Carol says, “They didn’t give us a lot of hope that first night.”
Neurosurgeons weren’t sure as to the extent of damage, but death, paralysis and motor sensory damage all seemed possible.
Hardy was in critical care for a week, at the end of which he regained consciousness. After five and a half weeks in the hospital, when Hardy showed rapid improvement, he returned home to continue his long rehabilitation process.
Hardy, who turned 53 this past week, is a 30-year elementary education veteran. He has taught almost every grade at Cascade Brook School since its opening in the early 1990s. He also coached the Mt. Blue ski team for 11 winters, retiring last year.
Hardy skied for the University of Maine at Farmington, where he was attracted to education. He started teaching in Farmington after he graduated.
“I’m having kids whose parents I taught,” Hardy says now. He feels that in Farmington, “the community is family.”
It was that community that honored Hardy’s work by nominating and voting for him as Wal-Mart’s annual Teacher of the Year. Hardy was awarded a “teacher of the year” golf shirt, a plaque and $1,000 for him to spend for his classroom.
He was automatically nominated as a candidate for Wal-Mart’s statewide teacher of the year contest. The winner of that gets a $10,000 grant for their school.
Despite feeling some lingering fatigue and impaired eyesight as a result of the fall, Hardy is filling out the contest application.
Hardy says, “I feel I owe it to the school and to the people that nominated me” to seek the honor.
Hardy reacted humbly to the first award. “I don’t like being singled out because I teach with a group of people who are teachers of the year every day,” he said.
Still, he said it indeed is an honor to be singled out.
Wal-Mart representative Peter Zanoni says that it’s the entire point of the contest: “It gives the public a chance to express their opinions of certain teachers who have made a difference.”
He said shoppers nominate and vote for the teachers they value within the surrounding community.
“In the classroom, I really take my work seriously,” Hardy says, “and I want my students to take their work seriously as well.
His accident brought him a better awareness of the notion.
“He’s really been a stickler about his rehab,” says his wife, Carol, who took the spring off from teaching at Jay Middle School to assist her husband.
Further support came from children Luke, 24, Molly, 22, and Jake, 20.
Hardy has been battling fatigue, dizziness, poor balance and impaired vision through weekly rehab sessions in Lewiston. He also concentrates on exercise, including walking two miles daily.
He’s also been helping at the Cascade Brook school library on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Stacking books is also good practice for my eyes,” Hardy says.
On those days he stops into his fifth-grade class, now taught by Hardy’s former student teacher assistant and recent UMF graduate, Alex Ernst.
“Tomorrow I might go take a student or two at a time out of the class and listen to them read, if it’s all right with Alex.”
He intends to return to teaching in the fall. “What I’m most excited about is getting back in contact with the kids.”