In the community of kayakers in Goshen, there are a few people that like to trace their conversion to one very persuasive proselytizer who has an office on the second floor of the Administration Building, happens to teach social work — and once even had an experience so terrifying that she gave up water sports for 20 years.Jeanette Harder, the director of the master’s program in social work at Goshen College and a professor of social work, has started to recruit faculty and staff from across campus to join her in her joy of kayaking.
Growing up surrounded by lakes and creeks, Harder said she was always around water and doing different water sports.
“After having a very, very bad experience and having gone over a waterfall, I had stopped all water sports for 20 years,” she said.
The incident happened on a river in North Texas while paddling on rubber rafts with a church youth group, after getting stuck in a six-foot waterfall and becoming trapped under the water.
“I vividly remember being underwater with the sound of the roaring waterfall all around me, not knowing which way was up,” she said. “If I had gotten snagged under the water, it would have been all over for me.”
She managed to free herself and come up to the surface near the raft, where she threw one of her arms over the side of the raft to hold on.
After the accident, Harder had a series of nightmares, with each one leading her closer and closer to safety — until in her last dream, she finally reached safety.
“In the final dream, I was pulled to the side of the lake by a young girl dressed in white,” Harder said. It was as if something had saved her that day.
But five years ago, she returned to the water and started kayaking with her husband, Stan Harder, after he purchased kayaks for their anniversary.
“Five years ago, my friends had started to talk about kayaking, and I had told my husband about it … he surprised me for our anniversary with kayaks and life jackets, and the rest is history,” Harder said. The kayaks are “Perception” brand, and are a tie-dye mixture of purple and a shade of green. They measure 9 1/2 feet long by 28 1/2 inches wide.
The kayaks were purchased in August 2018 and then taken out onto the water a few days later. They were first taken out at Standing Bear Lake in Omaha, Nebraska, which is still one of Harder’s favorite places to go kayaking.
From that day on, she committed herself to introducing the sport to others in Nebraska. One thing led to another, and eventually, a number of GC staff and faculty members ended up going out in the water with her. She also got friends to commit to buying their own kayaks to go out on weekends to enjoy the atmosphere.
“The people I bring with me don’t know if they are into kayaking or not until they finish their trip. So far, people have been very fond of kayaking, and are invested in joining the community and taking their friends and family on these adventures,” Harder said.
A good number of her off-campus friends that are now into kayaking because of Harder. She is very happy to know that she is the reason people got into the sport.
She then explained the process that she took to expose people close to her to the joys and wonders of kayaking.
“I am fairly new to Goshen, as I have started here at Goshen the summer of last year when I had worked with the college to start a Master of Social Work program here at the school,” she said.
Being a relative newcomer to the area, she said that there were a lot of new areas for her to explore around the area, which give her opportunities to expand on the sport. There were new waterways and new people to introduce to her found love.
“Right now, my favorite launching spot is at Violett Cemetery in Goshen, just off Kercher Road, and I then paddle up the Elkhart River,” Harder said.
That water way is a path that is very familiar to Harder, as it’s a place where she has launched countless times and has taken a number of people out on the water for their first time.
Harder then mentioned that she has a spreadsheet with all of her and her husband’s different trips — together, they are almost at the 200 mark.
They had a goal of reaching that milestone before the end of this year’s kayaking season, but that didn’t happen. She also keeps track of all of the people that go with them and where they traveled.
In her spreadsheet, she has 190 launches, which are spread around 37 different launch points and waterways. This includes the 35 people she has taken out, usually going with two people at a time, many of which are or were colleagues and students.
“Me and my husband bought an inflatable kayak in the spring of 2021, so it was easier for me to load and unload from the car without my husband around, as the other kayak was too heavy for me and was a risk for injury,” Harder said.
The inflatable raft was also something that was used to let friends and other guests borrow, to get the experience, and didn’t limit the experience to only one person at a time, but two people now including Jeanette.
Kayaking is something that is done to spread joy and give relaxation, which is why Harder has one main rule: When it comes to these trips, there’s “no hard talk,” meaning no discussion of difficult subjects while kayaking.
Harder has mentioned the different types of wildlife that she sees while kayaking. She can see fish, turtles and a lot of birds — and the amount of wildlife she sees is directly related to the water clarity.
She said that when the water is very clear, she can see all the way down to the bottom, including all of the fish. She even sees eagles and hawks as they fly or rest on a tree branch.
For Harder, kayaking is a very enjoyable experience and a way of spreading the love to others. When people join her, it brings them all a connection with nature and the calmness of the environment.
A correction was made on Jan. 23 at 4:40 p.m. to correct multiple factual errors, listed here: Harder did not grow up in Omaha. Her kayaks measure 9.5’ by 28.5” instead of the stated 10’ by 3’. She does not have local family, thus, she cannot convince them to buy kayaks. She has one spreadsheet to keep track of her kayaking, not two. Finally, we misstated her rule of “no hard talk” as “no outside talk.”