Fall 2006 Currents > Mr. Hardi Goes to Washington: A Dream to Serve America
Mr. Hardi Goes to Washington: A Dream to Serve America
Story by: Andrea Mikkelsen
Mr. Hardi Goes to Washington: A Dream to Serve America
By Andrea Mikkelsen
Community service has become a part of everyday life for many Winona State University students. It might include reading to residents of St. Anne's Hospice, working as a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, or spending a weekend building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Fraternity and sorority affiliation now means more than a social network: at WSU the organizations are a focal point for volunteer efforts throughout the community.
Zoltan Hardi (05) realized the importance of public service while he was an exchange student attending high school in the Milwaukee area. Thousands of miles from his home in Eger, Hungary, Hardi's experience of living with a host family was a turning point in his life. At first he simply wanted to return the kindness he found, but Hardi realized he could offer something bigger.
"I met a lot of people who really affected my life, and I owe them a lot," said Hardi. "One of the big reasons I want to give back to the United States is the amount of love, hospitality and support I received from my host family in Milwaukee," Hardi shared.
An economics and political science major, Hardi compiled an extensive service record while a student at WSU. During his junior year, he applied for a scholarship recognizing community service, and that's where he met someone equally committed to public engagement, Winona State alumnus Terry Lierman (69).
A Distinguished Young Alumnus Award winner, charter member of the 1858 Founder's Society and member of the Cornerstone Society, Lierman was actively engaged with his alma mater. He also has a lifetime of experience volunteering for community and political causes. Currently, Lierman, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, is chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
"There's nothing more noble than public service, and each and every person should make the time in his day,” explained Lierman. "I've been volunteering full time for seven years now, and for the past 34 years, I've volunteered at least one day a week."
Lierman wanted to encourage others who thought like he did, so in 1999 he created a scholarship at WSU rewarding community service with a $25,000 donation. The first scholarships were awarded to three political science students who, through their volunteerism and dedication to the community greatly enhanced civic life in Winona and the surrounding community, embodying the true spirit of civic engagement.
The Lierman scholarship is part of the Winona State University Foundation's community service scholarship program. To date, over $128,000 has been pledged by individuals and companies to establish scholarships, and in 2005 alone five new awards were initiated. Dr. Jim Schmidt, Vice President for University Advancement, emphasizes that the scholarships focus not only on what students do during their years at WSU, but also on their commitment to continue serving after they graduate.
"Terry grew up in Shopiere, Wisconsin, a town with less than 400 people. For a time, the Liermans lived in a trailer and Terry’s bed was the family couch. At Winona State, he worked 35 hours per week in several part time jobs. His education and work ethic enabled him to achieve professional success and put himself in position to help others," said Schmidt.
"I believe he developed a kinship with the Winona State community because we have always attracted a certain type of person: hardworking and loyal, with a deep sense of camaraderie and community service."
The Lierman scholarship "creates a solid foundation, promoting active leadership while teaching that we each have the ability to make a difference," explained Schmidt. And Schmidt commends Lierman as one of the University's first benefactors to designate community service as a criterion for a scholarship. "Terry has always been in the forefront and very passionate about public service. He's a man who is ahead of his time," said Schmidt.
Encouraged by the Lierman scholarship, Hardi knew exactly where he wanted to go following his graduation from WSU. "In order to serve my community, to give back to America, Washington, D.C., was the place to be," said Hardi.
"If my purpose is to serve the poor and the meek, then I'm in the right place," Hardi continued. "There are homeless people living a block away from the White House, and everywhere you turn, there are more opportunities to help, more opportunities to make a difference."
Hardi is currently interning at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes religious freedom and human rights on a worldwide scale. Through his work with the organization, Hardi recently organized a conference on torture, to which two members from every parliament in the world were invited. In the end, delegates from 50 countries attended, and the group from Tibet brought a blessing from the Dalai Lama. "It was a wonderful experience, truly amazing," related Hardi.
Hardi is also creating a tribute to Pope John Paul II, soliciting luminaries such as Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu to write chapters. Tutu, the 1984 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has already agreed to pen a chapter.
Since receiving the Terry Lierman scholarship, Hardi and Lierman have kept in touch on a regular basis, even going out to dinner together when Hardi's family visited from Hungary. A strong bond, based on mutual admiration and respect, has formed between the two.
Noting his spirit and generosity, Hardi looks to Lierman as an inspiration and mentor. "Terry Lierman leads by example, and I'd like to follow in his footsteps," said Hardi. "Once I establish myself, I plan to support the Winona State community and create a community service-based scholarship."
In turn, Lierman is gratified that Hardi has fulfilled all his expectations. "Zoltan is exactly what I wanted, why I created the scholarship," he said.
Last Modified: Friday, October 06, 2006 9:09 by Heather Alt