Hardy and Kari Watkins
Devoting Time, Talent and Energy to State Issues
Serving Oklahomans through their public service occupations, Hardy and Kari Watkins are passionate about what they do. The journalism majors met each other at OU in the early 1980s. After graduation they became news producers at Channel 4. Later, Kari spent time as the communications director for the Sonic Corporation and completed an MBA at OCU. Now she is the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Hardy recently accepted the position of executive director for the State Tourism and Recreation Department after serving as the director of the Edmond Chamber of Commerce. The two create an example of an Oklahoma “power couple,” dedicating much time, talent and energy to state efforts. Each has a strong desire to serve and make the community and state better.
Kari, who said she has always preferred challenging jobs, became the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial in 1999.
“I’ve enjoyed charting the course for a way to honor those who were lost as well as those who survived,” she said. “We show that good can always overcome evil. It’s about teaching a profound story from an Oklahoma perspective to future generations.”
She and Hardy, who worked as the project director for the construction of the memorial and museum, helped choose the photos. Hardy wrote the text for the museum and both worked on the committee that helped design the 30,000-foot facility. It is a national museum and draws from all 50 states and more than 20 countries each month.
“We believe our strength is in our education and outreach programs,” she said. “It is certainly more than a tourist attraction; it is a classroom to all who visit. People comment that they have been changed when they go there. The goal in my job is trying to help people recognize the message of hope from the tragedy and show them a very inspirational message.”
Hardy, who worked once before for the state tourism department, is determined to communicate the strengths of Oklahoma to others. “We have so much to offer people when they come to our state,” he said. “Our diversity of product makes Oklahoma unique — we have lakes, prairies, hills and forests. There’s a lot to do. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for people here and we should take more pride in what we have.”
Among his plans are to improve state parks, including better maintenance.
Hardy lived in Seattle for seven years while he attended the University of Washington master’s degree program. He returned to his home state in 1998 to work at the memorial, and a year later he and Kari married.
The couple has two children – Ford, age 4, and Caroline, age 2. They said their main hobbies, apart from being OU sports fanatics and news junkies, include whatever the kids are doing. “Time watching the Wiggles and Barney are right up there with television news reports for us. We also like to travel — especially to wherever OU sports teams are playing.”
Balancing work and family is always a challenge, Kari said. “I’ve always tried to be protective of our personal time. I try not to be away from home more than one night each week and Hardy and I tag team a lot. It’s definitely a partnership because we both want to be the best possible parents for our kids,” she said.
She added that she believes excellent planning is a must when it comes to running errands and choosing events in which to participate. “I think it’s an important message to my daughter to show that she or women in general can do anything they want. I want to be a role model for her,” Kari said.
Kari was awarded the Journal Record Woman of the Year Award in 2005 and on May 19 she will receive the Stanley Draper Award for Downtown Oklahoma City.
“We find a lot of strength in each other,” Hardy said of their achievements. “We’ve been blessed and we’ve worked hard.”
He said their faith in God and strong family values are guiding principles for their family. They attend Crossings Community Church and live in Edmond.
“We like to surround ourselves with positive, energetic and fun people,” he said. “Our church has really meant a lot to us. It’s changed our lives. We try to take time every day to reflect on God’s grace.”