Claude T. Hardison Jr. is a history buff who is passionate about researching where his family came from and encouraging others to do the same with theirs.
The president of the Tennessee Society Sons of the American Revolution, he is continually working to share the importance of remembering how the United States got its start by looking back on the people who started it.
Originally from Virginia, Hardison moved to Cleveland in 1977 to continue his career in industrial management. When Mars Chocolate opened its facility, the company offered him a spot on the team of employees that started the new plant. He was later promoted to the positions of technical services director and corporate team member for baked products, and worked at Mars until his retirement in 1999.
Prior to that, he had worked for another sweets company, the Keebler Bakery. After beginning his career with that company as a production manager in Grand Rapids, Mich., he was offered the opportunity to become the company’s youngest-ever production superintendent at what was the then-brand-new bakery facility in Atlanta.
Now 75, Hardison stays busy being involved with groups like Sons of the American Revolution and the Knights of Columbus.
He developed a “serious” interest in genealogy after being invited to attend an event in North Carolina on that topic with a cousin. He later discovered he was related to a couple of Revolutionary War-era patriots.
Hardison’s ancestors include Capt. Michael Koonce, who served in the war as part of the Jones County militia in North Carolina, and Elizabeth Koonce, his wife, who played a role in helping the war effort. He was also has family ties with another patriot named Alexander Blackshear.
“Genealogy had been a hobby of mine for many years, but I had never gone into detail,” Hardison said. “It’s quite intriguing when you find what they participated in and the courage it took. I don’t know if I would have the courage.”
It was before the age of computers, and he spent hours in his local library pouring through documents like the 1710 census of the area that later became known as the United States. When he found his family didn’t know much about its history, he researched and took notes until he had “accumulated mounds of paper.”
Finding out more about his ancestry made him feel like he had a personal connection with those who fought for their country’s independence amid life-threatening battles. He said he realized he wanted to help others find similar connections and promote the importance of studying history.
He also later found out that he was related to some men who have more recently served their country; he is a distant cousin of the U.S. Navy’s Admiral Frank B. Kelso and Rear Admiral Osbourne B. Hardison. In his younger years, he served in the U.S. Army Reserves, but he jokingly said he might have considered joining the Navy if he had known of his family connections.
In 2003, Hardison became a founding member of the Col. Benjamin Cleveland chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. He has held several positions in the local chapter since then, and he was elected chapter president in 2007. This year, he became the state president for the SAR.
He stays busy serving on four national committees of the organization and is also involved with the Knights of Columbus, his neighborhood’s homeowners association and his church.
As Hardison has promoted the cause of preserving the histories of American patriots, he has passed the interest on to others in his family. He and his wife of 52 years, Helen, have four grown children — two sons and two daughters — and 10 grandchildren.
Both of his sons and some of his grandsons have become SAR members, and Hardison said it is very important for older people to pass down what they know about their family’s history to younger generations.
As a member of the SAR, Hardison has worked to help foster an appreciation for history through things like essay contests and presentations to local students. He said he believes that children are not learning enough about their country’s history in school, and many do not see things like history and genealogy as important because they do not know the significance of either.
“We’re just not conveying that to them,” he said.
Though a little girl in the Bradley County Courthouse Square once confused him for a pirate, one of the things Hardison said he enjoys most about being part of the SAR is getting to don Colonial re-enactor clothing for special events, outfits that have often served as conversation starters.
As America makes its way farther into the 21st century, Hardison is not ready to let the people of Tennessee forget the sacrifices their ancestors made to make the country what it is today.