Jean Thomas Ward, a devoted family man and conservationist who worked for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area for 35 years -- 16 as director -- died Monday at the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg. He was 78.
He died of renal cell cancer, which was diagnosed 39 months ago, said his daughter Nekko Ward Shefferly. Mr. Ward was known for his loving sense of humor and drive to work to solve problems.
"What he reveled in were interactions with people -- he loved re-establishing bridges with people that might have had an issue with the metroparks," said his close friend Art Weber, former public information manager at the metroparks, who met Mr. Ward in 1972. "He was wonderful about re-establishing ties with the community. It was a real strong suit for him."
Mr. Ward was born March 8, 1934, in Detroit and grew up in the small farming community of Richmond, Mich. Before entering a career focused on conservation, he served four years in the U.S. Navy -- two on active duty, two in the reserves -- as an engineer on the aircraft carriers USS Antietam, USS Leyte, and USS Tarawa.
While posted in Rhode Island, he met his future wife, Janet George Ward, whom he married in 1959. "I can't give you steak every night, but I will do everything I can to make you happy," Mr. Ward told her, according to his daughter.
After his discharge from the Navy, he attended Michigan State University, from which he graduated in 1961 with a dual degree in city forestry and park management.
Mr. Ward's love for trees developed from an early childhood desire to climb utility poles, Ms. Shefferly said.
After graduation, he worked for a tree service company in Muncie, Ind., before returning to Toledo in 1963 to take a job as assistant commissioner of forestry for the city of Toledo alongside Forestry Commissioner Robert Metz.
When Mr. Metz joined the Metroparks system in 1966, Mr. Ward went with him to serve as a landscape architect, followed by roles as assistant director, deputy director, and ultimately, in 1985, director.
"He was an incredibly humble man," Ms. Shefferly said. "It took the board of directors as well as my mother to give him the confidence that he could do the job. He would only take credit for work if he could take it on behalf of the hundreds of employees who worked for the Metroparks."
During his tenure as director, Mr. Ward wanted to ensure all individuals could appreciate the park system. "He wanted there to be a different perspective of the park district in Toledo," Ms. Shefferly said. "He believed the parks were for everyone."
His many accomplishments included preserving the Fallen Timbers Battlefield, acquiring land along the Maumee River, expanding Wildwood Preserve Metropark, and restoring the canal at the Providence Metropark -- a multimillion-dollar project that involved building a bridge to carry State Rt. 578 over the restored canal, Mr. Weber said. Mr. Ward retired in 2001.
He was also a founding director of the University of Toledo's Stranahan Arboretum.
While not at work, Ms. Shefferly said, her father enjoyed golfing and spending time with friends and family. He was part of a potluck group of about 20 people who gathered once a month at each other's homes to share meals.
"He was loyal, there when you needed him, had a great sense of humor, and was very much devoted to his family," said Dick Hanusz, a member of the potluck group who met Mr. Ward in the late 1960s.
He is survived by his wife, Janet; daughters, Semia Ward Downs, Marcia Ward, Marilyn Moyer-Ward, Jill Pfeiffer-Ward, and Nekko Ward Shefferly; sister, Mary Catherine Fall; brother, Bill Ward; and nine grandchildren.
Visitation is to be Wednesday from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Manor House in Wildwood Preserve Metropark. A funeral Mass is to be celebrated Thursday at 11 a.m. in Rosary Cathedral, followed by a celebration at the Jean T. Ward Pavilion in Wildwood Metropark.
The family suggests people visit favorite Metroparks with loved ones in lieu of donations.
Contact Madeline Buxton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6368.