Remembering James Hardy: A mother’s perspective

| June 12, 2017
James Hardy shares a joyful moment with his mother Jeanie Summerville.

James Hardy shares a joyful moment with his mother Jeanie Summerville.

FORT WAYNE—Early on, it was evident that James Hardy III was destined for greatness. The sturdy 6’5” young athlete was being noticed as early as middle school for his athletic potential but it was Elmhurst38” High School that folks around the state—and the country—began to recognize his abilities on both the basketball court and the gridiron.

A runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Basketball Award, James was consistently name an All-State player and is one of the city’s all time scorers, amassing 2,000 points during his four-year career at Elmhurst. He also lead the team a state finals appearance during his junior year but came back to lead the team to a sectional title his senior year.

On the football field, James, a formidable receiver, was honored as an Indiana Football Coaches Association 4A all-state player pick. In that second sport, he posted memorable milestones with 34 catches for 710 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He continued his dual sports ways in college at Indiana University, playing basketball for two years but excelling even more as football player, with 61 catches, 893 yards and 10 touchdowns his freshman year of 2005, earning a Freshman All-America designation; with 51 catches, 722 yards and 10 touchdowns his sophomore year, as well as earning a second, Second Team All-Big Ten award and his with his 20 touchdowns his first two years tieing an IU record for second most catching in the first two years of a college career there.

James stepped up his game even more the following year with 74 catches, 1,075yards and 16 touchdowns and setting an IU all-time receiving record in three categories: touchdowns—36; receiving yards—2,690, and receptions (186). That year netted him even more awards with a First Team All-Big Ten selection among others.

Those gridiron skills would lead him to the professional ranks as a second round draft pick of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2008. He played two years for the Bills before being picked up by the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Unfortunately, a chronic injury prevented him from capitalizing on those opportunities so he left the sports world after being released by the Ravens in September 2001.

Never one to sit still, James turned his head to Hollywood, enjoying some entry success into the worlds of acting and modeling.

A few years back, he returned to his Fort Wayne home to be with his family, including his mother Jeanie Summerville. On June 8, 2017, Jeanie received the call from the Allen County Coroner’s office that no mother should ever have to receive: Her lovely son, James was gone, his body found in the Maumee River.

Despite her grief, she said she wanted to take a moment to set the record straight about a number of things that have been reported or circulated in the wake of her son’s passing.

“What I’m feeling right now there are no words to even express. It saddens my heart that my beaut son is no longer with us but I want them to remember him for the joy that he brought to this city—how happy that he made them,” explained Summerville.

While she said many people knew of her son’s sports achievements, not everyone know how dedicated he was to his community and helping people. For example, he used the James Hardy Day celebration set in Fort Wayne as an opportunity to meet and encourage others in the city. At Thanksgiving, he would come back to Fort Wayne to give turkeys to people in need through the Community Harvest Food Bank. There also were a number of occasions when James would go to local schools, unannounced to talk to young people. Unlike many other professional athletes and celebrities, he did it without media trailing him or the need for any publicity.

“He gave back in a lot ways that the public didn’t even know. He was just that kind of guy,” said Summerville. “I miss him so much.”

Summerville said there were so many special moments in the relationship with her son but she recounted a few including a one captured by the camera when James picked up his mother in joy after he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Another related set of photos showed up in the pages of Frost Illustrated.

“Another thing that brought me joy with him was when Frost had me and him in the paper at the same time, me in my outfit and him and his jersey. He got a whole lot of copies of that,”said Summerville.

She said she had a lot fun being at his games at IU and his pro games but that also made her worry about her son.

“I’m not a sports girl and if someone would have hurt my son, I would have went nuts,” she said.

One thing that made James extra special was his love and appreciation of family.

Summerville said he once asked her mother—his grandmother—what she would love to do before she passed on.

“She said, ‘go to ’Vegas and he made it happen. He took my mom, his dad and me to Las Vegas,” said Summerville.

He also planned special things just for his mother—like the time he sent for her to be brought to Hollywood just for a vacation.

“The most exciting part was when he picked me up at the airport. And, he felt so good that it was him that was able to do that for me,” she said.

She said he was always doing something for someone.

“He brought everybody joy,” said Summerville.

While she appreciates the outpouring of love and sympathy she has seed during this heart-wrenching time, Summerville said she hasn’t been entirely happy with the way her son’s passing has been reported in the media and the way some of taken advantage of the tragedy for their own benefit.

“You can’t believe a lot of times what you read in the media,” said Summerville.

She recounted a media story which claimed to have talked to James’ friends and family about his death. But, said Summerville, there was no family in the story. When she called to find out why they said that but there were no family members in the story, she said she was told that they talked to his mother but she said she didn’t want to talk.

“I told them, ‘that’s not true, because I’m his mother and nobody talked to me,’” she said.

That did net her an apology.

She also said it troublesome that some are using James’ to be in the spotlight—like people claiming to have talked to him the day before he was listed as missing—May 30. She said that’s highly unlikely given that she already had talked to police about her son’s disappearance as early as May 25 and that his phones had gone dead and were untrackable by May 27.

“They’re trying to get that 15 minutes of fame on behalf of my son through lies,” she said.

“As far as his family, I was the last one to see him alive,” said Summerville.

She said her son, along with the family, also had been upset about how an incident with the police in California that subsequently landed him in a mental hospital had been reported.

For example, she said her son said the reason he endured the pain of being institutionalized for so long was that he wanted to clear his name and not have people think he was some kind of felon. Even after he was released, she said the media tried to demean him, publishing pictures of of him unshaven with long hair upon his release making it seem like he had severely deteriorated when in reality, she said he just hadn’t been allowed the luxury of haircuts and shaves at the time.

But, worst of all, she said the entire experience—especially the beating at the hands of the police—changed her son, took something from him. Summerville said it hurts her that people can’t put themselves in the place of someone else who has endured so much and sympathize with them—like her son.

When he was totally beaten by the police, it would probably have had the same effect on them. Don’t look at him and have pity. What he needed was compassion and love and understanding,” she said.

“When he came back to after they did what they did to him, it took a while for him to readjust. But i was there for him and so was the family and he was great again,”explained Summerville.

Through it all, however, Summerville chooses to hold on to the beautiful aspects of her son and his life—the things that make her smile.

“He was very handsome,” she said. “He loved to dress very nicely he was a very classy guy. I was always so proud of him.”

She also spoke of how well-spoken James was.

“At IU and the Bills, he was their spokesperson. He had to travel when everyone else was offseason. I was able to attend some of those and I got to go to some of them with him. He was very articulate.”

That’s another skill Summerville said she had wanted her son to utilize in a different arena but it wasn’t really James’ thing she said.

“When he started to getting into the acting and modeling he said it bored him because he had a lot of adrenalin. That’s what I wanted him to do,” she said.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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