Park bench on Stone Bridge Trail memorializes Ashley Hardin


Ecolab paid for a memorial bench to be installed on the Stone Bridge Trail near their facility.

A welcoming, bright blue park bench placed on the Stone Bridge Trail just south of Rockton Road is a positive memorial of the tragic death of Ashley Hardin, 38, the mother of three children.

Hardin was reported missing on July 23 2022, and later found shot to death behind Ecolab Inc. in the 5100 block of East Rockton Road in Roscoe.

Hardin’s ex-boyfriend, Rayshawn Smith of Rockford, immediately confessed on Facebook and pled guilty to the murder.

Ashley Hardin (1984-2022)

On Oct. 17, 2022, Smith was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder and received a 60-year sentence on Dec. 19. Smith waived his right to be present at the sentencing. He had been in the Winnebago County Jail for the previous five months, since his arrest on Jul 23, 2022.

At the sentencing hearing, the charge was upgraded from First Degree Murder to Natural Life because a firearm was used in the crime. Smith was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Editor's note: On Christmas Day, sometime before 1:17 p.m., Rayshawn Smith died in custody at Northern Reception and Classification Center in Joliet, part of Stateville Correctional Center. According to WIFR, the Will County Coroner has performed an autopsy but no cause of death has been given yet. Smith had been transferred from Winnebago County to the Illinois Department of Corrections on Dec 21, 2022 at 4:18 a.m.

Employees of Ecolab wanted to find some way to memorialize Hardin. A grassroots effort was begun to create something positive following the tragedy. It was decided to install a commemorative bench with a plaque dedicating the bench in Hardin’s memory.

The plaque reads: “In loving memory of a devoted mother, daughter and friend. Continue smiling, growing, loving and showing respect.”

Tom Ramsden, head of the Ecolab manufacturing plant said, “Our employees were the driving force in raising funds to establish the bench and place it on the Stone Bridge Trail.”

After they poured the slab, Bob Nowicki, Roscoe Township Supervisor, and Gary Blascoe, Township Clerk, used Bob's Kubota loader to unload the bench from the truck.

A few months ago, Bob Nowicki, Roscoe Township Supervisor, and Township Clerk Gary Blascoe volunteered to place the bench along the trail.

Ramsden said a dedication ceremony will take place in April.

Another blue park bench can be found just off Elevator Road in Roscoe, near the Roscoe Township office and the Stone Bridge Trail.

Michelle Boisvert, Jeff Richter and Michael Richter, children of Robert Richter, a long-time resident of Roscoe, recently commissioned the bench and plaque and also donated a little-leaf linden tree planted nearby. The memorial plaque reads: "Robert 'Big Fella' Richter. Forever in our hearts – 1932-2021."

Richter lived near the Stone Bridge Trail and spent many hours walking the path nearly every day for 20 years.

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