Bessie was born in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, on October 11, 1919, to Frederick and Bergine Hobart. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College, class of 1941, and taught English at Maynard High School until 1943 when she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. She was later selected to be an officer and after completion of Officer Candidate School at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.
She met and married her first husband, John Thomas Hardin (“J.T.”), a Tech Sergeant also serving in the Army, in 1944. In 1949 she accompanied him, along with the first two of her six sons, to the mission fields of Southern Africa, where they lived and worked in the service of the Lord for the next 29 years. She was the mother to six sons and John’s helpmate, but she was much more as she worked side by side with him in their mission. These short paragraphs cannot begin to tell of the lives that were touched and influenced by her in so many good ways.
After her return from Africa in 1979 and John’s death in 1981 after 37 years of devoted marriage to J.T., she found a second chance at love when she married Sid Chenault, a Navy veteran, in May of 1984. A wonderfully kind man, he was her companion and friend who took loving care of her as her health declined, and continued to do so even when his own health was failing. Bessie often told her boys that she was fortunate to have been married to these two men and that she had two lives and two loves.
In “retirement” Bessie told of her experiences by writing and publishing a number of books about her mission in Southern Africa. She worked in a home for teenage mothers. She stayed engaged in the work of the Lord even as she was confined to a wheelchair, assisting Sid with World Bible School correspondence courses and eventually holding Bible study classes with the other residents of the assisted living center where she lived her last years. From her room she sent out a constant stream of encouraging letters and e-mails to friends, family, missionaries and churches. To her sons she sent articles of interest and encouragement she had clipped out of magazines. She mailed donations to famine relief in Africa and the seminary in Benoni, South Africa, with which she and John had been associated. She always had a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. She was ever the missionary, mentor and Mother.
How, you may ask, did a small-town girl from Minnesota end up going to college before college attendance was common, enlist in the Army and be commissioned a Lieutenant, travel to Africa on a tiny, dirty, cramped ship, and bear and raise six sons, all while being a missionary for almost 30 years? Perhaps a devotional note she wrote some years ago, which was found in her desk, will explain:
“It was about the year 1937. I was seventeen, going on eighteen. My dad had worked hard in the Chamber of Commerce in our middle-sized home town. In appreciation for that work, he was presented with a beautiful electric clock which he placed proudly atop the Zenith console radio in the living room.
One day as I was admiring the clock’s beauty, I noticed that the second hand advanced exactly one “tick” per second. The thought occurred to me – that is my life. My once-in-a-lifetime life was being measured one tick at a time, relentlessly, never to return. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Most likely my serious pondering on the finality of those passing seconds was but a flash of maturity for a teenager. However, I did some serious thinking about the need for me to make the best of my life, to do worthwhile things, to do my part for God and to make my little piece of the world better for my having passed this way.
I readily admit that there have been times when I have allowed that goal to fade, but it never did completely disappear from sight.
A friend of our family had leased a house for one year. He spent some of his own money planting shrubs and perennials that he would not stay to see in a mature state. When asked why he did this, his reply was that he always wanted to leave a place in a better condition than when he came there.
So the question is obvious – is the world a bit better for MY having lived here? For YOUR having lived here?
The clock was a gift from men. God gives us the time that is measured by the clock.
We shall not pass this way again.
Tick. Tick. Tick.”
Bessie is now reunited with her mother and father, her twin brothers, Burton and Claire, her husbands, John and Sid, and granddaughter Tara Jean, all of whom preceded her on the final journey.
Family members left behind to cherish her memory are: her six sons and their wives, David Kent Hardin and Esther Hajdar, Don Alan Hardin and Diane Hardin, Brian Thomas Hardin and Cheryl Hardin, Neal Wayne Hardin and Amy Hardin, Dale Owen Hardin and Deborah Hardin, and Gary Iain Hardin and Pamela Hardin; her stepdaughters, Barbara Park and Patricia Kos and their families; her beloved grandchildren, Tracy Dawn, John Brian, Trey, Bonnie Laura, Cecily Bergine, Spencer Chase, Meagan Marie, Haylie June, Sophia Marie, John Sandor, Thomas George, Amber Nicole, Crysta Marie, Chelsea, Hal Wright, Marshall Jordan, and Haley Fox; six great-grandchildren; and her many step-grandchildren, nieces and nephews and their families.
The Hardin and Chenault families express their gratitude to the resident nurses and staff of Vista Oaks in Lakeway who, with much love and respect, helped to take such good care of Bessie during the time she lived there, and to the nurses from Odyssey Hospice who eased her passing.
In lieu of flowers you are invited to send donations to one of Bessie’s favorite causes, the Southern Africa Bible College, in care of Brian Hardin, CPA, 900 West Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701.
Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, February 11, 2011, at Cook-Walden/Forest Oaks Funeral Home and Memorial Park, 6300 West William Cannon Drive, Austin, Texas 78749; (512) 892-1172.
Chapel Services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Saturday, February 12, 2011, at Cook-Walden/Forest Oaks Funeral Home. Reception to follow at Cook-Walden.
Bessie will be buried in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Barbara has been involved in missions for over 25 years, both in the field and in publishing.