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Joe Hardy
Joe Hardy
Published by Swampy Meadows
Joe Hardy

BEVERLY HILLS (MI) – Over the course of one’s lifetime, there are certain individuals we meet who stand out from the crowd as truly unique. In my 72 years on the planet, Joe Hardy, who died the other day on his 100th birthday, is on my very short list of most intriguing people. Entrepreneur, consummate salesman, philanthropist, bullsh*t artist and serial husband (he would marry five times), Joe was the founder and driving force behind 84 Lumber, a $4 billion chain of home improvement stores.

Here is an article and detailed video story on the life and times of Joseph A. Hardy III:


When I first met Joe Hardy, I had just completed year one with CNN Sales here in Detroit. It was 1992 and my boss and I were returning from the Turner Broadcasting Sales meeting in Arizona. As it was an election year, CNN was preparing to kick off its coverage with a major event. Rather than flying into Detroit, the two of us headed directly to Pittsburgh where “Larry King Live” would broadcast an Election Town Hall from the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in the Oakland section of the ‘Burgh, made famous a year earlier as the site where Hannibal Lecter was held captive in The Silence of the Lambs.

The Town Hall panel included then-Congressman and later Senator Rick Santorum; Mayor Sophie Madoff; some other local dignitaries and Joe Hardy. The reason this was all happening in the city of Three Rivers was that Larry’s producer, Tammy Haddad, was a native Pittsburgher:


My boss and I had seats in the front row and actually got some on-air facetime when the camera panned the crowd. After the show was over, we walked up on stage and said hello to Larry and Tammy. I then turned my attention to Joe Hardy. Pittsburgh was part of my sales territory and having married a native and lived there for three years I knew my way around the city and traveled there often. I introduced myself to Joe and told him I would like to stop out and see him the next time I was in town on business. CNN had just given him and 84 Lumber a ton of free national exposure, so what else could he say but “Sure, call my Administrative Assistant and she will set it up.”

True to his word, when I called a week later his AA got me on Joe’s calendar for early February. On the several occasions that we met, I noticed that Joe seemed to be awfully chummy with his young assistant, Debbie. He would later divorce Dorothy, his first wife and marry Debbie in 1998. When the divorce was announced it was suggested that the name of the company should be changed to “42 Lumber.”

When you think about it, as an advertiser CNN did not have a heckuva lot to offer 84 Lumber, as our target demographics – upscale opinion leaders and execs -- and Joe’s – carpenters and do-it-yourselfers – were dramatically different. As we chatted, I got the sense that Joe had come to the same conclusion. It was then that I proceeded to toss out my hole card:

The Turner Vendor Program.

The Turner Vendor Program was designed to help companies like 84 Lumber raise funds to mount a national marketing campaign which would be totally funded by their suppliers. The only caveat was that 50 cents of every dollar we raised was to be spent on Turner properties--CNN, Headline News, TBS, TNT and Turner Sports--Braves baseball and the NBA. The other half could be used however the advertiser saw fit. As I described the TVP in detail to Joe, I could literally see the 100 watt light bulb appear above his head and switch on. He absolutely loved the idea and told me:

“If we do this, I want to be on the air by the middle of May.”

Say what???

It was early February and Joe wanted to be up and running with a national ad campaign in three months? I called Turner HQ in Atlanta and spoke to TVP Director George Winslow. He told me to get a meeting with Joe for the three of us ASAP. The next week we laid out the framework: we would offer vendors different levels of monetary participation, based on how much of their product 84 Lumber had purchased in the last year.

The vendor meetings where we would solicit Joe’s suppliers to contribute to the national campaign would be held at Nemacolin Woodlands, the resort that Joe owned in nearby Farmington, PA. Nemacolin was the site of the 25th season of The Bachelor. Here is what a visit there is like during these crazy COVID times:


I had the chance to stay at Nemacolin on a couple of occasions – for the three days of vendor meetings and for a vendor golf outing that 84 hosted at Mystic Rock, one of two Pete Dye designed courses on the grounds The 2,000 acre resort is absolutely spectacular and one of my lasting memories is of sitting in the bar and striking up a conversation with the older gentleman sitting next to me. When I asked him what he did for a living, he said “I design golf courses – I’m Pete Dye.”

Unbeknownst to me, when I first sat in Joe’s office, he had already planned to launch a national program called “Affordable Homes Across America” whereby you could walk into any 84 Lumber and order a complete kit to build a new home on the lot of your choice. But Joe had no idea how he could fund it...until I showed up.

After a lot of hard work and hustle, “Affordable Homes Across America” launched in mid-May on the Turner Networks, billboards, local TV stations and newspapers across the country in 84 Lumber markets. The TVP had raised $3 million (in 1992 dollars) for Joe Hardy and 84 Lumber, the largest vendor program Turner ever executed.

Like any salesman, the foundation of my success was repeat business. I had visions of making the 84 Lumber vendor program an annual event, but it was unfortunately never to be. After the campaign launched, I got in my car and drove out to Saline, MI, the site of the nearest 84 Lumber location. Unannounced, I asked for the manager and inquired about the “Affordable Homes Across America '' program and unfortunately he had no idea what I was talking about. In following up with Joe’s daughter Maggie who was by then running the company, she admitted that 84 Lumber had dropped the ball and had failed to communicate the details of the “AHAA” to their then-400 stores.

While I would never do business with 84 Lumber again, I made a habit of periodically checking on the company’s progress and on Joe’s, as the two always seemed to attract both local and national press.

This 1997 article from The Wall Street Journal explains the complex relationship between Joe and his successor, daughter Maggie:


In 2006, Joe wrote a book Nothing is Impossible: The Legend of Joe Hardy and 84 Lumber:


Joe would divorce his old assistant Debbie in 2007 and marry 22-year-old Kristin Georgi:


They would divorce four months later.

Joe would marry for the fourth time in 2009:


This piece from Forbes entitled “Daughter Knows Best: Inside The 84 Lumber Saga” chronicles Maggie’s turnaround of the company after the housing disaster of 2009:


Maggie herself would divorce in 2017:


In 2016, Maggie surprised Joe with a stunning home renovation of his place on the grounds of Nemacolin:


In 2017, Joe launched Hardy World, a private equity real estate investment firm with his younger daughter Taylor:


I never saw Joe Hardy again, but I also never forgot him.

That’s it “From the Swamp.”
You can email me at: swampy@udpride.com
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By UDEE79 on 01-10-2023, 11:26 AM
Thanks Swampy that was a fun rabbit hole to go down.
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