#MightyTask: Shawn Rockwell Hardy ’80

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Shawn Rockwell Hardy ’80 lives her life by the St. Augustine quote “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” While she grew up in Mercersburg and lives today in Welsh Run, Pennsylvania, she is no stranger to the world. As a lover of travel and stories, she has visited more than 26 countries with her husband, Jim, and serves as a reporter at the Echo Pilot in nearby Greencastle, Pennsylvania. 

Shawn Rockwell Hardy ’80

As the daughter of then-Dean of Students Tim Rockwell (an emeritus faculty member who served the school from 1970 to 1996), she recalls connecting with people on different levels at lunch thanks to the rotating table placements. Today, she rubs shoulders with community members at municipal meetings, community events, and everything in between.

In the summer of 1983, while on break from Haverford College, Hardy accompanied her dad on an expedition to the Canadian High Arctic—along with several other Mercersburg students, alumni, and faculty. Others on the trip included faculty members Frank Rutherford ’70, Dan Kunkle, and Brent Gift as well as three students: Kurt Nielsen ’84, Robin Sarner ’84, and Jeff Dailey ’83.

Hardy was the only female who went on the three-week trip—carrying her 60 pounds worth of gear on her back and taking two-hour shifts at night patrolling the camp. 

“It was certainly a once in a lifetime trip,” Hardy said. “My dad is a visionary, and once he gets an idea in his head, he makes it happen.”

Rockwell had read a book, Three Years of Arctic Service: An Account of The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition of 1881-1884 and the Attainment of the Farthest North by Adolphus Greely about the first international polar year, and had an interest in arctic exploration. He had learned about a Mercersburg connection to the arctic as well. Among the list of participants on Robert Peary’s expedition (Peary was an American explorer who is credited with leading the first expedition to reach the North Pole) was Ross G. Marvin, who was a faculty member at Mercersburg for the 1906-1907 academic year.

“Our phrase during the trip was ‘Not the first nor the last, but among the few,’” Hardy said. “It really was very remote — halfway between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole on Ellesmere Island.” 

The group’s expedition commemorated the 100th anniversary of the First International Polar Year and also honored Marvin, who perished in support of Peary’s 1908 trek to the Pole. The goal of the trip was to locate Greely’s “death” camp (only six of 25 men survived), but the Mercersburg group was unsuccessful given the hard winter and heavy snowfields. The group still held a memorial service for Marvin and flew the flag for the United States of America, the Mercersburg flag, and the National Geographic flag. 

“My parents paved a very wide road when it came to travel,” Hardy said. “They had been all over the world, visiting the Soviet Union, Brazil, and Costa Rica while working for Mercersburg.”

Her love of travel continued into her adult life too. She and her husband have been married 30 years and have traveled extensively in the United States and abroad.

“The international bug really bit after we each independently participated in Rotary International exchange programs,” Hardy said. “We have always enjoyed seeing and experiencing new things.”

The door to international travel opened in 2000 when Jim was selected to go to Kazakhstan through a Rotary International exchange trip. John Rodgers, former Rotary Club district governor for parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, and the father of three Academy alumni (John Rodgers Jr. '79, Joy Rodgers-Mernin '78, and Jimmy Rodgers '81), who had an interest in agriculture and the Farmer to Farmer exchange program, selected Kazakhstan as the destination. Through those travels, Jim met Daulet, whose son (Kalmas Dauletov) was living in the United States as an exchange student. Kalmas ended up coming to stay with the Hardys for several months in 2001, and they consider him their Kazakh son. The families continue to keep in touch and travel to see one another.

The following year, Hardy went to Argentina in 2002 for a month long Rotary trip. 

Other trips have included Italy, South and Central America, the Baltics, the Galápagos Islands, and a photo safari in South Africa. Most recently, Hardy and her husband met Kalmas and his family in Dubai for vacation. 

Even though language can be a barrier, it hasn’t stopped Hardy from connecting with people and making connections along the way, 

Hardy graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1984 with a bachelor of arts in history. She returned home after graduation and got a job at the Record Herald in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. “There’s much more dialing in on careers now, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my degree,” Hardy said.

But then she caught the writing and reporting bug. 

“I just really took to it,” Hardy said. “My editor at the time told me this is what I was meant to do and it felt like a natural fit. I’m nosy and interested in people. Everyone has a story and even after 35 years in the business, I’m still finding people’s stories.”

Hardy climbed the ladder within the newspaper and became editor for eight years and then was senior reporter at the Record Herald. “For me, what’s cool is that people I knew early in my career, I’m now covering their kids and grandkids, and many of those people are still around, and I feel a real friendship with them,” Hardy said. 

Hardy said covering sports early in her career was one of the best things she did to foster relationships (even though she had to buy her husband dinner during football season so he could explain the plays to her in the press box). 

“Standing on the sidelines and interacting with people while their kids are competing is a great way to get to know people,” Hardy said. 

Hardy said she believes that the local paper still has a strong role, especially when it comes to local government.

“Who is going to explain to people about their taxes or storm water fees?” Hardy said. “I don’t know where else people will get that information.”

Hardy said another reason she still loves what she does is the high or thrill when you finish a big story or put another paper to bed. She also feels that it’s the job of local journalism to provide accurate information in a day and age where people expect instant news. 

Hardy encourages current and future Mercersburg students to take advantage of all the opportunities that Mercersburg students have. 

“Clearly travel was important to me, but there’s the outdoor programs, all the speakers that are brought to campus, and the emphasis on community service—there’s so much they can do to get grounded during their time at Mercersburg,” Hardy said. 

Editor’s Note: Shawn Rockwell Hardy ’80 is one of several Mercersburg community members featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Mercersburg Academy magazine. To meet other members of the Mercersburg community and enjoy all the content of this issue, visit mercersburg.edu/magazine