Urban Ministries of Durham lost a dear friend and devoted volunteer on Dec.14. Dr. Benjamin F. Ward fought a valiant battle with cancer for several years, but never lost his zest for living and giving to others. As a former volunteer coordinator at UMD, I had the extreme privilege of working with Ben and calling him friend. But then, Ben’s infectious smile greeted each and every person at UMD as a friend.
As I was quoted by Torry Bailey in “The Value of Giving Back” article which appeared in DukeTODAY June 6, 2008
“Ben Ward redefines the terms dependable and indispensable. He is generous, kind and always treats all the clients of UMD with dignity and respect.”
The article continues to describe Ben (who had just received the 2008 Duke Employee Community Service award):
“On average, Ward devotes two hours a day, five days per week to UMD. Ward discovered the homeless shelter on Main Street, near downtown Durham, while riding his bike. After passing by the shelter several times and wondering about some of the homeless African-American men standing around, he decided to stop.
Ward said UMD seemed to call to him, even though he did not know what to expect when he first walked through the doors. Upon entering, he was asked if he would be willing to assist other volunteers cook the evening meal three nights a week. Even though he had no formal training in cooking, he agreed.
Three days a week soon turned into everyday involvement. "I wanted the challenge," Ward said about his initial visit. "I wanted to do something different from the norm." More than 20 years and 10,400 hours later, Ward said he could not have imagined he would be at UMD this long, but is glad it's worked out that way.
"I learn a lot; a lot about the people, the city and myself," said Ward. "It's a measure of my own growth; it expands a sense of who I am."
Prior to receiving the Duke award, I nominated Ben for the 2008 Key Volunteer Award at the Volunteer Center of Durham. Ben received the award not only for the length of his service and the remarkable number of hours he devoted to UMD, but also for being the embodiment of UMD’s Core Values of Respect, Support, and Collaboration.
Sadie Jordan, who worked with him at the original shelter/kitchen once said:
“He helps with [physical] work, spiritual development and even entertainment. He plays the piano for us on chili night! He's a marvelous individual. The world needs about a million more of him... you know, if they're going to clone someone, they should clone him.”
Although I wasn’t employed at UMD when this event occurred, I heard over and over again of the night Ben enlisted Duke colleagues to assist him with setting the dining hall tables with white linens, flowers and candles. They then became waiters and served a salmon dinner to the 220 community residents who had come to the “soup kitchen” expecting hot dogs for dinner.
Mere words cannot describe all that Ben was to the clients and staff of UMD. This humble beyond measure, unassuming giant of a man was a true blessing to all at UMD. Well done good and faithful servant. You will be missed beyond measure.