Charles Hardt, former Tulsa public works director, dies at 80 (2024)

Charles Hardt, the city of Tulsa’s first director of public works and who oversaw a wide range of historically significant projects over three decades on the job, died June 20. He was 80.

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. July 16 at Mallory-Martin Funeral Home in Stigler.

Hardt retired in 2011 after roughly 30 years with the city and service under eight mayors.

He was named the city’s first public works director in 1990, heading up a new department created from the merger of four previous ones.

Hardt’s biggest impact on Tulsa arguably came in the area of flood control, where he oversaw a number of improvements, helping transform the city into a model nationally for how to manage flooding.

But a number of other projects completed under his oversight could be singled out as comparable in significance, including construction of the BOK Center, ONEOK Field, the Mohawk Water Treatment Plant, and a host of major street upgrades and expansions.

Following his retirement, the city honored Hardt by naming its new center for operations maintenance and engineering after him.

Mayor G.T. Bynum and former Mayor Susan Savage were among the city leaders who paid tribute to Hardt this week.

“Charles Hardt was a remarkable builder — of our city and of leaders,” Bynum said. “We have had so many department directors who worked for and learned from him earlier in their careers. His work on city policies, capital improvements and development of leaders will leave a positive imprint on Tulsa for decades to come.”

Savage worked with Hardt for 14 years, including her 10 years as mayor through 2002.

“Charles pushed for excellence, for the change that would make Tulsa a better place to do business,” said Savage, for whom Hardt also served as chief operations officer. “I relied heavily on his brilliance. There are few whose service and impact can compare to his.”

“And as exceptional a public servant and leader as Charles was,” she added, “he was just as exceptional as a human being.”

A registered professional engineer and hydrologist, Hardt’s history with the city of Tulsa goes back to 1976, when he was hired as chief hydrologist.

He left after five years to work for a private engineering firm. But as Hardt himself would later observe, his destiny and the city’s seemed to be intertwined.

Following Tulsa’s historic Memorial Day flood of 1984, which caused 14 deaths and damaged or destroyed thousands of structures, city leaders coaxed Hardt back.

He would oversee the implementation of a new flood mitigation program. Under Hardt’s leadership, the city’s ongoing commitment to advanced flood control policy and procedures would earn it special recognition from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tulsa’s Mohawk Water Treatment Plant, completed in 1998, was a project Hardt personally counted among his most memorable.

A $73 million construction project, it played a significant role in protecting the city’s drinking water source from poultry litter pollution.

Paul Zachary, the city’s deputy director of engineering services, worked directly for Hardt for 12 years at the city. But their relationship went back 40 years, to when Hardt hired him out of Oklahoma State University for his private firm.

“He was revered and respected by everyone,” Zachary said. “To this day, I’m always asking myself, ‘What would Charles do? How would he have handled this?’”

“He was the true ‘servant-leader’ before that term was popular,” Zachary added. “He taught me more than anyone that public service is a calling — that it’s not about you; you are working for others. And you can always tell those who just treat public service as a job.”

For all the projects over his career, Hardt said later that he hoped his legacy would be as much about the people who’d worked for him.

“You don’t accomplish anything without them,” he said as he neared retirement, adding that he was proud to have always stood up for his employees.

“The only way to get good production and 100-plus percent out of the employees is support them, always appreciate them and what they contribute. I’ve really been fortunate to have good working relationships.”

Among his honors, Hardt was recognized nationally in 2007 with the American Public Works Association’s Charles Walter Nichols Award for Environmental Excellence for his achievements in the environmental field. Hardt was a member of the Oklahoma State University College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology Hall of Fame.

His survivors include his wife, Georgia Hardt; two sons, Jeff Hardt and Steve Hardt; three siblings, Bettie Bozarth, Howard Hardt and David Hardt; four grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a step-grandson; and two step-great-grandchildren.

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Charles Hardt, former Tulsa public works director, dies at 80 (2024)
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