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Lou Anna Hardee in ECU's College of Education has held numerous leadership positions in the Optimist Club of Greenville.(Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Hardee fulfills passion to help children through Greenville Optimist Club

By Judy Currin

A stroll through the corridors at the Duke University Children’s Hospital changed the direction of Lou Anna Hardee’s life.

Hardee was visiting her grandson, who at age 2 was fighting neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in the nerve tissue.

“I will never forget walking down the corridors and seeing babies in cribs, toddlers who were not even talking yet and young children being pushed…down the hall with so many tubes attached...,” Hardee said.

The experience fueled a passion for helping children that strengthened Hardee’s commitment to the Optimist Club of Greenville, where she has dedicated countless hours to ensure that the club achieves its soul purpose – supporting and serving the youth in the community.

An ECU College of Education staff member since 1968, Hardee felt the Optimist Club was a great fit for her desire to support the university motto “to serve.”

“I am an Optimist because I believe in the many opportunities afforded young people through our programs, goals and objectives like “Friends of Youth” and “Bringing Out the Best in Kids,” Hardee said.

Hardee and her husband Curtis joined the Optimist Club in 2005. In six short years with the club, Hardee held offices as board member and president of the local club and was recognized as Optimist of the Year in 2008 and 2011. She served at the district level as well. In 2010-11, she was governor of the N.C. East District, and was recently awarded the title of “Distinguished Governor” of the district.

Among the campaigns Hardee has supported through the Optimist Club are a little league baseball team, scholarships, essay contests, oratorical contest, junior golf programs, funding for the Ronald McDonald House, the Respect for Law program, the Internet Safety Program and the Boys and Girls Home at Lake Waccamaw, N.C.

“I do what I do because it gives me a good feeling inside and if I can help put a smile on a child’s face or a twinkle in their eyes, it is entirely rewarding,” she said.

But the closest activity to Hardee’s heart is the Childhood Cancer Campaign. She has had more than one encounter with the disease.

In 1993 the Hardees’ 26-year-old son Curtis Jr., was diagnosed with cancer.
“I will never forget that cold, rainy day in March when we received the diagnosis,” Hardee said.

Major surgery followed and after 12 weeks of chemotherapy, her son’s cancer went into remission. He has been cancer-free since.

In September 2007, Drake, their fifth grandchild and son of their younger son, Michael, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. He spent the next year at Duke, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant followed by two years of post-therapy treatments at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Drake is now cancer-free and just entered the first grade.
 
“Cancer knows no age…and we hope a cure is soon found,” Hardee said.

“Through our fundraising efforts for the Childhood Cancer Campaign we can help support research to eradicate this terrible disease,” she said.

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