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Indiana’s first female firefighter retired on Tuesday with a crowd of friends and coworkers surrounding her as she gave her final speech.

Diana Hardy left behind 36 years of firefighting – 32 of them with Purdue – on Tuesday afternoon.  Hardy paved the way for women in a traditionally male-dominated profession as the first female firefighter in Indiana.  Her retirement also marks the loss of Purdue Fire Department’s longest-serving member.

In honor of Hardy’s service, Sen. Ron Alting and Rep. Sheila Klinker presented her with Indiana’s Sagamore of the Wabash award.

“This is the highest honor we can get in the State of Indiana,” Alting said during the presentation.  “People like Neil Armstrong, a Boilermaker, was presented this award.  Being a Boilermaker myself, (Hardy is) representing our great University and more importantly, this is history today.”

Accolades aside, Hardy said her biggest reward isn’t the praise or recognition itself, but the example she is leaving behind for girls and other women.  The Logansport, Ind. Native will be donating her uniform to Purdue Libraries to be put on display with items from other influential women, including pilot Amelia Earhart.

“It’s a women’s history project.  They’ve wanted to do that for a while now, but I’ve kind of held them off for a little bit because I felt like it was something I wanted to do after retirement,” Hardy said.  “I really wanted to wait until all was said and done, and then kind of share the whole experience.  It’s pretty cool to know that I’m going to be in a display and somewhere, sometime, some little girl is going to see that and it may change her life.”

Hardy described her retirement as bittersweet; she said the department’s camaraderie, football and basketball games and tours with local children are what she will miss the most.

“It’s a career that you really have to be devoted to because it’s a lifetime career.  You’re always a firefighter,” Hardy said.  “I feel like I’m not really leaving the department, I’m just taking the uniform off.”