“I can’t imagine life without volunteering,” Dr. Cheryl Hardy, city of Columbia, Mo., December Volunteer of the Month
Environmentalism is in the blood of Dr. Cheryl Hardy, professor of psychology and 23-year veteran of Columbia College.
Hardy grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, when the area was a heavy manufacturing nexus (paper and steel mills, automotive) and clearly remembers the air being a hazy hue of red, toxic dust settling on laundry, cars and houses, rotting fish blanketing the shores of Lake Erie.
She even remembers the Cuyahoga River becoming so polluted it caught on fire.
These memories and an abiding love of nature has prompted Hardy to since put in hundreds of volunteer hours cleaning, planting and maintaining wetlands, lakes, trails, meadows and forests in the city of Columbia and its nearby Missouri River bottomlands as a member of TreeKeepers, Columbia Aquatic Restoration Program, Hinkson Clean Sweep, Cleanup Columbia and many more groups over the past 10 years, garnering her the city’s December 2011 Volunteer of the Month Award.
If you’ve admired the beauty of the MKT Trail, Stephens Lake Park, the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge, the Forum Nature Area and the new wetlands gradually taking shape on the MKT just east of Forum Boulevard, you’ve seen her contributions.
“When it works you don’t even notice,” she says. “Getting rid of algae blooms, Canada geese, invasive species like pear trees is a lot of work. Then it all looks so natural. But it takes a lot of work to restore what should be there.”
Hardy grew up volunteering. As a kid, she became so good at trick or treating for UNICEF and other causes neighborhood women would give their collection cans to her. “No, I didn’t get the door slammed in my face — it’s hard to slam the door in the face of an 8-year-old kid trying to pronounce ‘multiple sclerosis.’
“Volunteering is a foreign concept for a lot of people. I was lucky to have been brought up with it. I can’t imagine life without volunteering.”
Hardy received her bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and her master’s and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Binghamton, all in psychology. She then moved to Columbia, Mo.
In 1988, she heard through the grapevine that Columbia College was hiring evening instructors and applied. The dean of Academic Affairs called her the next day and asked her when she could start. She was hired full-time the next year.
Today she tries to make her life truly green. She’s a vegetarian and bikes to work every day, rain or shine, summer (“Easy — half an hour” from her west Columbia home) and winter “(“Up to an hour — you have to wear Yaktrax [metal grips that fit over shoes for ice traction] and when you hit a patch of ice, it’s a big deal”). An older but still lovely silver Raleigh with a front fender and somewhat dusty saddlebags sits in a corner of her second floor St. Clair Hall office. “I just take it in the elevator with me. People get used to it, and it sets a good example for students.
“My husband shakes his head sometimes and says, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to drive?’ Sure it would.” But she says her commute allows her to relax, get rid of stress and ride by wetlands she’s worked on every day and gradually seen improve.
More than 20 years of teaching the same subject at the same college — doesn’t it get a bit old?
“Oh no,” she says. “I have always been interested in the brain, in animal behavior.” She’s currently teaching two sections of animal behavior, one in day and one in evening. “The field keeps expanding and you have to keep learning to keep up.”