Longtime area couple, public servants say final goodbyes
The signs and earmarks of Bill and Sandy Harding’s life together are sprinkled all around the inside of their red and white home at 831 Columbine St., in Craig.
Decorated throughout the living room are depictions of lighthouses, tributes to Sandy’s childhood growing up in Fall River, Mass., a town located along the eastern shore of Mount Hope Bay.
On a wall above the living room couch rests a painting of Naples Harbor in Italy, with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background against a red sunset. This is a memento of their time living in Italy, while Bill served in the Navy.
Off to the side is a bouquet of red and white roses and a signed white nurse’s cap, courtesy of Sandy’s Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing students. And Bill, Moffat County’s Veterans Service Officer, is wearing a gray polo shirt etched with a black and white POW/MIA insignia and a red rubber bracelet that reads, “Support our troops.”
If these are nods to their past, there are others that serve as road maps to their future.
There’s a “for sale” sign out in the front yard and some of their things inside the home are boxed and ready to move.
A new home, one they had built and which has been finished for a year, is waiting 150 miles southwest of here.
The Hardings, residents since 1976 and both of whom have spent years serving the public in Craig and Moffat County, are preparing for the next chapter in their lives.
Soon, the couple will realize a two-year goal by moving to the warmer climate of Grand Junction. Leaving their long-time home isn’t without its difficulties, however.
“We’ve made a lot of friends here,” said Sandy, who spent 26 years as a nurse in the Moffat County School District and another five as a nursing instructor at CNCC. “It’s going to be hard.
“It’s bitter-sweet. I think if we were totally leaving : it would be much different.”
But, to understand the next chapter for the Hardings, it might be easier to know the first.
Early morning proposal
It’s Dec. 20, 1970, a few days before Christmas, and 25-year-old Bill is returning stateside from a deployment in Naples. Months earlier, in late 1969, he met a 22-year-old named Sandy Thiboutot at a dance in Newport, R.I.
They clicked almost immediately and began dating.
But, there were roadblocks.
Bill – who spent his childhood playing on the vacant ground of what would someday become the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and his later years in Erie, Pa. – joined the Navy at 23 and was due for an overseas deployment.
Sandy, the daughter of a nurse, would be going to school, following her mother’s career path.
The two cooled things down for a time, temporarily diverted by life’s circumstances.
Until this day.
While overseas, Bill made a decision.
“In the period of time between when I left and when I flew back home, I decided she was the one,” he said.
So, he arrives in Somerset, Mass., and makes straight for Sandy’s home. She answers the door, and it’s him.
He has a question, a big one.
“I showed up on her doorstep at 7 o’clock in the morning in uniform and asked her to marry me,” he said.
“I was just in shock,” said Sandy, noting that she answered the door wearing her hair curlers. “I had no idea he was coming home.”
Bill said he wasn’t nervous. He said he “had her reeled in a long time” before the proposal.
The couple married six days later, on Dec. 26, 1970, a day after Christmas.
That marriage has lasted nearly four decades and counting, produced three daughters – Krista Selan, 36; Erika Everett, 33; and Rebecca Harding, 26 – and two grandchildren.
The four years Bill served in the Navy, from 1968 to 1972, would be a crucial time, a time that shaped the rest of his life.
A second-class radarman, Bill was never in Vietnam, never fought in that campaign, but he was affected by it.
He lost his best friend to the war, lost others who “made themselves outlaws and went to Canada,” and witnessed and experienced the hostility soldiers in uniform went through during that tumultuous period.
“As a serviceman, you were not accepted by the public,” Bill said. “There was a perception that the nation and government had turned their back on you, and most of us who had come home were spit on, flipped off. : You took grief because you were in a uniform or if you said you were a vet.
“I think I’m the advocate I am (today) because of the treatment of Vietnam-era veterans.”
Bill and Sandy moved to Craig in 1976. In that time, they have both made giving back to the community a priority.
For 17 1/2 years, Bill worked as an environmental engineer, or a reclamation specialist, at Trapper Mining.
Sandy worked as a nurse at The Memorial Hospital, for doctors in Craig and Hayden, and then for Craig Intermediate School, Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School.
In 2004, she left the School District with the intent of semi-retiring. That plan was interrupted when CNCC came calling. The community college was starting a nursing program, and Sandy was recruited to help train the next generation of nurses.
“There is definitely a need in Northwest Colorado for nurses,” she said. “I wanted to give something back to nursing.”
Bill’s time working as a county Veterans Service Officer, a state-required position to be held by an honorably discharged veteran, began in 1999 when he became assistant VSO.
When his mentor, Bill Frye, retired in 2003, Harding took over. He then left the job for a time, before returning in 2006.
He serves as a liaison between veterans and the Veterans Administration.
His top priority, he said, has always been doing what’s best for veterans.
“I work for the county, but the position requires that you’re working for the vets,” he said. “If you put the vets first, everything else falls into place.”
Although their respective pursuits has sometimes made life hectic, sometimes taken time away from each other, Sandy said the sacrifices have been for a good cause.
“It’s another way of giving back, I think,” she said. “Bill doesn’t consider it a sacrifice of his time. : That’s kind of the attitude with nursing, too. You’re there to help other people.”
For the couple, the future may not completely resemble the past – they plan on traveling more, seeing more of their children and grandchildren, and spending more time together – but it won’t be without its similarities.
Sandy, 60, said she’d like to spend a day or two a week at a hospital or clinic working in health education.
Bill, 64, said he’ll volunteer a day or two a week driving disabled veterans to the hospital in Grand Junction.
They summed up their future endeavors as jobs, rather than careers.
Although they are leaving their home in Craig, that doesn’t mean they’re severing ties. Both of their mothers live in Moffat County, as does Bill’s brother.
They said they’ll be back for visits with them, with their friends and with Sandy’s nursing students upon their graduation from school next year.
And, they said, at some point, hopefully a day long from this one, they’ll be back in Craig – where most of their life up to this point has been – for good.
Call it the final chapter.
“We’ll be buried here,” Bill said. “I don’t think we’ll live 30 years anywhere again. Craig is home.”
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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