There were probably very few on the front lawn of Hardwick Clothes Monday morning who have ever heard the names of Milton Ager and Jack Yellen.
But, those two men penned words decades ago that fit the occasion perfectly.
“Altogther, shout it now. There’s no one who can doubt it now. So let’s tell the world about it now. Happy days are here again,” those composers wrote.
The words fittingly describe the mood and the optimism that filled the atmosphere under appropriately sunny skies as the company celebrated its 134th birthday and the beginning of a new era for America’s oldest tailored clothing maker.
“I haven’t seen this many people here since we had our last ‘friend and family sale,’” said Hardwick vice president of sales Jim Park as he began the ceremony.
The plaudits were plenty for both the new company chairman, Allan Jones, and the employees of whom many have spent decades with the iconic business.
Randy Martin, senior pastor of Broad Street United Methodist Church, prayed an invocation which focused on the gift of a new day and a gift of hope for the future.
“We celebrate beginnings,” Martin prayed. “But, we also know you are the author of new beginnings.”
The program, titled “A Celebration of Our History and Our Promising Future,” opened with remarks from four prominent political leaders from the local and state levels.
“A 134-year history of an industry such as Hardwick Clothes right here in Bradley County — that in itself is a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment,” said County Mayor D. Gary Davis. “We look forward to another 134 years of history from Hardwick Clothes.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland showed off the Hardwick label in his blazer to cheers when he began his remarks.
Rowland said to new Hardwick Clothes chairman Allan Jones this was not just the acquisition of a business or a business venture.
“This goes back to your dad, who believed in giving back to the community,” Rowland said. “I would tend to believe this played a big part in the acquisition of Hardwick Clothes. You’re giving back to this community. You’re giving back to the wonderful employees here. You’re giving back to a product made in the United States of America.”
Rowland said the company has a history of making the uniforms for major airlines, NFL uniforms and the U.S. Army dress blue jacket.
“I look forward to having many more brands added to that,” he said.
He said Jones had given “new birth and new life to all of the employees here.”
“If it had not been for them over the past many years, you would not have a business to purchase,” Rowland said. “Because of them, the fine products produced here, the ingenuity, the work dedication and work ethics of all of those employed at Hardwick Clothes — I’m glad to have a place in the United States that not only bears the label ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’ but ‘Made in Cleveland, Tennessee.’”
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said the country has problems, but is “roaring back” and the Hardwick story is an example.
“The reason our greatest days are ahead of us is because of places like here in Bradley County, Tennessee.”
The congressman said Jones did not have to do what he does, but does them “because he has a big heart.”
“He gives back constantly and rewards greatness,” Fleischmann said.
He called the employees “the backbone of this country.”
“I want to thank each and every one of you. You are the men and women who get up and work hard every day, and make great products,” he said. “We’ve got your back. You are truly great, and this company is going to come roaring back.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the event was something “he wouldn’t miss for anything in the world.”
“This is exactly the type of event I like to come to where we celebrate America, celebrate what’s going on locally and not just moving in somebody from outside,” Ramsey said.
He said the celebration was for the fact “we are keeping an American company in America.”
Ramsey lauded the recent news of the Volkswagen expansion, but added that “for too long the state of Tennessee has neglected those companies that have been here and invested in our communities, supported the United Way, supported Little League — and we say we’re trying to recruit somebody else in.”
“It’s just as important to keep the companies here in Tennessee that have grown and prospered here in Tennessee,” he said.
Introducing Jones, Park said the celebration was “much better than the alternative we were facing.”
Jones referred to Cleveland being The City With Spirit.
“I’m here to tell you today that Hardwick is the essence of the spirit, and it’s loud and you can hear it loud here today,” he said.
He said that spirit was evident when talking with the employees.
“They’ll tell you 19 years,” he said. “They’ll tell you 20 years. Some will say 40 years and some will say 40-plus years,” Jones said.
Jones said he has been interested in the Hardwick story for many years and has known the family all of his life.
“Tommy Hopper [former Hardwick CEO] and I grew up in the same neighborhood,” he recalled.
Jones said he knew the clothing business would be far different than his financial businesses.
“When we got serious about Hardwick, somebody told me it takes more courage to buy Hardwick than it did for you to jump off that aquatic center diving board at the University of Tennessee in a big orange speedo,” he said bringing the crowd to laughter.
He said he knew of Hardwick’s sound foundation and “extremely loyal workforce.”
“We have a story to tell about a product made in Cleveland, Tennessee, and I intend to do that,” Jones said.
He said there has been a nationwide search for the top people in the taylor-made clothing business.
“We made a pick and we think we made a good one,” he said as he introduced the ninth CEO in Hardwick history, Bruce Bellusci.
“He saw the same thing I saw when I first came here — the staff,” Jones said. “I saw the commitment and Bruce gave up a career and he and his wife, Nancy, are moving down here.”
Bellusci poked some fun at himself, noting his roots in Chicago and New York City and his Northern accent.
“They move pretty fast and pretty gruff and [are] not so patient,” he said.
He said his wife told him he needed to slow down.
“That saying hello part — ‘How’re you?’” he said. “I practiced that for about three days. I decided I can’t do it, so how’s everybody doin’?”
He said he came to Hardwick for two reasons.
“One, people. Two, people,” Bellusci said.
“I met Allan Jones and Lynn DeVault and I was taken by their commitment, their loyalty and dedication to every single person in his companies and now, to his newest company at Hardwick.”
Bellusci acknowledged Hopper, his family and the employees who have “taken us through hard times and good times and we are going to have the best times going forward.”
“This has been, is and will be the greatest American apparel company in the United States,” Bellusci said. “We’re an American company. American jobs. And, most importantly, American people,” he said. “Nancy and I are honored to be a part of this and it’s going to be a great run for us.”
Bellusci also introduced someone he called “the greatest creative designer in the United States” who had arrived at 1 that morning.
Jeffrey Diduch will become the chief creative designer for Hardwick.
“He is nationally known and will become another Ralph Lauren,” Bellusci said. “That’s how strong this guy is and he and his partner, Matthew, have made a commitment to come down here and be a part of this team.”
To conclude the morning, Jones raised the 1880 Old Glory, which was the American flag when Hardwick Clothes began.
Rufus Triplett sang the National Anthem as the flag reached the top of the pole.
Jones then invited all the employees and guests to join him at the Hardwick sign in front of the building for a “family photo.”