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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Mourners arrive Saturday at the New Covenant Worship Center for the funeral of James Hardy, who played football for Elmhurst High School, Indiana University and the Buffalo Bills.

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

Hardy's family, friends give last goodbyes

Life, 'beautiful smile' celebrated at services

Austin Candor | The Journal Gazette

Jeanie Summerville's letter to her son was loving and nostalgic. But to all gathered at New Covenant Worship Center on Saturday afternoon, it was a goodbye that came too soon.

Summerville's voice resonated throughout the sanctuary walls as friends, family, coaches and teammates gathered to celebrate the life of former NFL wide receiver and Elmhurst star James Hardy.

“I've always been so proud of you and fortunate that God chose me to be your mother, and I will miss seeing your handsome human presence and that bright beautiful smile of yours,” Summerville read aloud.

“You did good, baby, while you were here and God has blessed you because not only is he with me everyday but you are too. I can feel you, baby, but you already know that,” she said.

Hardy's body was found June 7 in the Maumee River. The 31-year-old had been reported missing on May 30, and the cause of his death remains unknown.

Though Hardy's life was cut short, his legacy left a lasting impression on countless people in and outside Fort Wayne.

“I just appreciate the community coming out and his family welcoming us, and for allowing me to be part of James' life,” former Elmhurst basketball coach Keith Edmonds said. “James was like a son.”

Edmonds coached Hardy throughout his career at Elm­hurst, where he graduated in 2004. Under Edmonds, Hardy helped lead the Trojans basketball program to a 2003 state championship appearance.

Later that year, Hardy committed to Indiana University, where he would embark on a dual-sport athletic career in basketball and football. His time as a Hoosier would ultimately lead Hardy to being selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills.

But amid the fame and fortune that encompasses the lifestyle of a professional athlete, Hardy always set aside time for the city in which he grew up.

When Elmhurst announced that it would be closing at school's end in 2010 because of financial constraints, Hardy returned to his alma mater as a source of hope and inspiration, reminding students that challenges and setbacks could offer benefits down the road.

“Sports were my outlet,” Hardy told Elmhurst students that spring, three months before the school shut its doors for good. “There are a lot of things in life that are not planned. If you have goals and things change, good things can happen.”

To those close to Hardy, his words remain bitter­sweet as the community will live on without the caring and driven individual who continues to serve as a role model for countless individuals in the Fort Wayne community.

“This was all about James and how he touched all of our lives,” Edmonds said after the service. “We could have all had something to say and been here for hours. That's how much he impacted us.”

acandor@jg.net