The folks at some churches called him Brother Ard. He taught Sunday School classes, promoted organic gardening and won prizes at the Sumner County Fair.
He went to the Chestnut Hill as part of a get-acquainted trip to see which enterprise of this type he wanted to affiliate with and wound up spending the rest of his life there sharing his version of the gospel with its students and the community.
Herschel J. Ard was born May 6, 1889, in Elsmore, Kans. His mother, older brother and sister joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church during his boyhood. His older brother encouraged him to attend an Adventist school after he finished the elementary grades.
Going 100 miles from home and working for an Adventist farmer through the summer and school year, he was able to attend a junior academy in Thayer, Kans. Earning a scholarship by selling religious books the next three summers enabled him to attend Union College Academy in Lincoln, Neb. for the next four years, starting at the age of 17.
During his senior year a Bible teacher encouraged him to read the nine volumes of the Testimonies by Adventist visionary Ellen G. White, which he did in his few spare moments and Sabbath afternoons.
“This reading gave him the foundation principles of his after life and this experience deepened his confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy,” according to his obituary in the March, 1980, Madison Survey. He heard Ellen White speak three times.
Herschel Ard graduated from the academic course at Union College, earning the equivalent of an academy diploma, in May, 1910.
Hearing Professor (later Dr.) E.A. Sutherland speak of the needs of the South at Union College inspired him go to the school/sanitarium/farm enterprise Sutherland had founded in Madison, Tenn., in 1904. He soon received his life calling.
In the fall of 1910, Mrs. H.M. Walen from Chestnut Hill went there looking for someone to help her teach in a growing elementary school. In 1908, she, her husband and another young family - Mr. and Mrs. George Wallace and children had spent three months at Madison, then wanted to start a similar school.
They purchased a farm for sale near Oak Grove and named it Chestnut Hill after all the chestnuts on the property. School started with Mrs. Walen teaching five children from the two founding families. Two neighborhood children joined before spring of 1909 and more wanted to come.
She asked Dr. Sutherland for help and he recommended Herschel Ard. Mrs. Walen put the situation before him, offering a “richness of experience” as remuneration.
He decided Chestnut Hill would be a good place to start his proposed tour of the seven “units” operating on the Madison model and never left.
”Twenty-one years ago I attended the first convention at Madison while a student here,” he said in 1931. “When we get into this work, we find great joy and satisfaction in it.”
He married Susan Walen, daughter of the founders, in 1915. A community school was carried on for 20 years and then boarding students were taken in. Later a small sanitarium was established.
Gardening and Sunday School teaching became the hallmarks of Brother Ard in the community.
Susan Ard said he would visit the Bible class in other churches and offer his services as a substitute teacher. When a $1 edition of The Desire of Ages, a life of Jesus Christ, came out, he took a copy to the home of each Sunday school teacher and offered it for sale.
“Then he would look up all the references in The Desire of Ages on the Sunday school lesson for the coming quarter,” she said. “He would copy those reading helps, as he called them and give them to the Sunday School teachers. One young man told him a year or so later that he didn’t know how he could teach without those helps.”
He was described as a “firm believer in organic farming,” growing all crops that way. Each year showed an abundant harvest of Fredonia grapes, an orchard of several kinds of fruit trees and honey from the beehives. Their gardening earned prizes on their display of canned goods, potatoes and wheat at the 1919 Sumner County Fair. The May 4, 1927, Madison Survey called him a “Farmer of faith” as well as a leading spirit in other community work while his wife and mother-in-law taught school.
He spent 70 years at Chestnut Hill, serving as elder of the Chestnut Hill SDA Church from its organization in 1925. Always interested in education, he took two courses at Volunteer State Community College at the age of 85.
By 1971, Chestnut Hill billed itself as being the “oldest and smallest of the units started as ‘children’ of Madison still in existence,” with a 14-bed nursing home, small school and farm.
He passed away Feb. 17, 1980 in Highland Hospital after suffering a bad fall and an immediate case of pneumonia.
“He was active in the community’s Sunday Schools and was a guest teacher many times,” stated his obituary. “He loved people and his influence over the several hundred students who passed through Chestnut Hill, as well as in the community and county, only eternity can reveal.”