Downtown Uniontown, Pa. (Photo via Uniontown Downtown Business District Authority).
Joe Hardy died earlier this month on his 100th birthday, and he’s being remembered not only for being a tremendous businessman but also for his generosity and down-to-earth personality.
He was the founder of the 84 Lumber chain of building materials stores and built it into the nation’s largest privately owned building materials supplier and third overall behind Home Depot and Lowe’s.
His wealth has been reported as high as $1.2 billion, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He also founded the Nemacolin resort, which became one of the top facilities of its type in the country. Located in Fayette County, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, it includes two golf courses, a driving range, tennis courts, a zoo, a ski area, a four-diamond hotel, and a five-star restaurant.
Joe hosted many performers at the Nemacolin, including such stars as Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Smoky Robinson, Bette Midler, and Christine Aguilera, among many others.
“Many knew Joe as a brilliant businessman and enthusiastic entrepreneur,” Amy Smiley, 84 Lumber’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “Even with his vast success, Joe always remembered what matters most: people. He helped make the American dream real for so many, and he will be greatly missed.”
“Joe was a true American success story. And he was a true gentleman. He could have demanded to be treated like a tycoon, but instead he wanted to be known as Joe,” former Pennsylvania Gov., and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A true champion for #FayetteCoPA. A steadfast community leader. A bright light. A visionary. An incredible man.
Please join us in honoring Mr. Joe Hardy and sending our deepest sympathy to his family and loved ones.
God bless you, Joe. 🙏🕊️❤️ pic.twitter.com/wdDnKI2avj
— Fayette County PA (@FayetteCoPA) January 8, 2023
Our paths crossed many times over the years. The Nemacolin resort is located off two-lane Route 40 just outside of Uniontown, Pa., and I worked at the Herald-Standard, located in Uniontown, for 36 years, including nine as executive editor.
It was always clear that Joe loved Fayette County and its people, with Nemacolin being one of the top employers in the county. With all his money, he could have lived anywhere in the world. But he chose to live and die in Fayette County.
However, there were several occasions where some misunderstood Joe’s intentions as good as they were.
He started the PGA Tour Lumber 84 Classic, which was played on the resort’s $18 million Mystic Rock golf course. It was big news at the time, with hopes that it would generate some much-needed revenues for our poverty-stricken county.
Hardy told me about how he hoped local restaurants and businesses in the county would be able to profit by holding events related to the tournament, drawing in many of those attending the event.
However, much to Hardy’s dismay, nothing of the sort occurred. Instead of embracing the tournament, many business owners figured it was just another way for Hardy to enrich his fortunes, with some even closing for the week. In addition, fearing traffic problems, residents stayed from the tournament in droves.
When the tournament started, I called the PGA and asked to talk to other newspaper editors located in small towns on the tour, figuring they could give me some pointers on how to cover the tournament. They put me in touch with a newspaper in Columbus, Ohio. It was pretty clear then that Nemacolin was probably the smallest stop on the tour by far, and that it was doomed to fail, especially without the support of local residents.
Hardy tried his best to make the tournament a success but eventually gave up.
At one point, Hardy decided to try to fix up Uniontown, spending millions of dollars in the process.
Hardy said he was soon contacted by officials from nearby towns about lending a hand to spruce up their communities. Hardy said he couldn’t fix up every town in Fayette County, but he said he hoped his efforts in Uniontown would inspire wealthy people across the county to help their communities.
Fayette County was a wealthy county in the early 1900s, due to the huge number of coal mines that sprouted up across the county, and some residents became millionaires overnight from selling their lands. That money was passed on to later generations, creating a wide divide between the wealthy and the poor in the county.
However, no rich people were inspired enough to follow Hardy’s example, and Fayette County remains one of the poorest counties in the state.
Hardy also served as a Fayette County commissioner in the mid-2000s. Unlike running his businesses where he ruled the roost, Hardy soon found out that to get anything done, he needed a second vote.
That was never clearer than when Hardy wanted to try and clean up the Fayette County Courthouse, which desperately needed a major overhaul. However, the other two commissioners thought the price tag was exorbitant and fearing massive tax increases to get the job done, refused to give him a second vote.
Tired of the constant bickering and endless regulations he had to follow, Hardy threw in the towel in the middle of his tenure.
He came down to the newspaper with news about his resignation. And you could see the look of relief on his face. Joe Hardy could go back to being Joe Hardy.
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