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A service John Hardin would have loved

They laughed so hard at John Hardin's funeral, you might have thought Hardin himself was on stage, performing for the crowd.

It was a service the former Rock Hill mayor would have enjoyed - lots of humor, some poignant moments and more than a few tales about Hardin's exploits. View video here.

Hundreds filled the pews at St. John's United Methodist Church on Wednesday to remember a grand entertainer and giant in Rock Hill government, business and civic life.

"What's left for us to say that he hasn't already said - and said it better anyway?" asked the Rev. Ken Owens, one of three ministers officiating the service.

When it was over, friends and relatives went to the City Club to celebrate Hardin's 90th birthday, which is June 30. Posters around the room showed photos and press clippings from Hardin's life.

"He could rub shoulders with presidents, Bob Hope or the pope - and come out like he had top billing," the Rev. Tim McClendon said at the funeral.

McClendon wasn't kidding. Hardin met seven of the past eight U.S. presidents and once shared a stage with Hope at a dinner in California.

Hardin presided over an array of civic boards and committees, from the YMCA to the Salvation Army, Chamber of Commerce and Rock Hill Country Club. If he got involved, he usually found his way to the top.

"The funny thing," noted McClendon, "is how little John was ever secretary or vice president."

Soloist Jerry Helton performed "God Bless America" and the congregation sang hymns including "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," and "Blessed Assurance."

Rock Hill's past and present mayors, Betty Jo Rhea and Doug Echols, sat in the audience with old Hardin friends such as Merritt Wilkerson, Frank Barnes and Melford Wilson. Also in attendance was former U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings.

The joy of Hardin's life

McClendon had the audience rolling with some classic Hardin tales. An example: Many years ago during a temperance movement, the preacher at St. John's asked congregants to sign a pledge card promising to give up drinking.

After Hardin held up his card for all to see, his brother approached him in disbelief, saying there was no way he could make good on the pledge.

"Carlyle, what you don't know is, I signed your name," Hardin explained.

Hardin served three two-year terms as mayor until the mid-1960s, but he never really left public life.

Until the past few years, Hardin maintained an office inside the Wachovia building on Main Street. He could be seen walking downtown in his brightly colored jackets, greeting passersby or heading to the next civic function.

The Rev. Sandra King urged people to share their favorite Hardin stories around Rock Hill in coming weeks.

"Nothing would please John Hardin more," King said, "than to know people are still talking about him."

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