'Weird' Ward Lived for Students
After three decades of delivering laurels such as te Golden Baloney Award, alumnus' scholarship ensures his legacy continues to inspire.
Story by Jacob Longan
In the Tulsa, Okla., neighborhood where Jeff Stewart was raised, he didn’t know of any college graduates. He didn’t even consider pursuing higher education until his junior year at East Central High, when he took a class where the teacher wore silly costumes and rewarded correct answers by serving cookies out of a bedpan.
What Stewart learned in Pat “Weird” Ward’s 1975-76 chemistry class helped him find the path to a 1982 OSU electrical engineering degree and his current position of technical fellow at a global security and aerospace company.
“He taught us chemistry, but what he really taught us was that there will be people smarter than you, which just means you have to work harder,” Stewart says. “I am where I am today because he and another teacher of mine did everything they could to help me succeed.”
Ward taught at East Central from 1959 to 1987, utilizing humor and unpredictability because he believed it helped students learn and retain information. He proudly bore the nickname “Weird” Ward while doing things such as wearing a conductor’s hat or safety goggles with eyeballs on the front.
His final lesson was about generosity. After living so frugally that a “new” shirt was a $2 thrift-store purchase, he died from lung cancer on Feb. 13, 2013, leaving approximately $300,000 to OSU for science scholarships.
“When he was alive, he taught me that I could be successful if I tried hard enough,” Stewart says, his voice cracking with emotion. “Then when he died, he taught me that it’s not about yourself. ‘Do something for someone else — someone you’ll never meet.’”
Consuela Reinhart has a similar story. Ward supported her dream of becoming a veterinarian, even as some of her family said she could never make it in college.
“He would say, ‘Forget about that. You’re special,’” Reinhart says. “He was very, very encouraging and supportive of everyone. He would tell us all we could do whatever we put our minds to. It was a blessing to have been his student. Who knows where I would have ended up if it hadn’t been for his encouragement?”
She has been a veterinarian since earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine at OSU in 1994, which followed a 1990 OSU physiology degree. When she learned of Ward’s estate gift, she was inspired to establish a veterinary scholarship.
“He taught us so much and has continued teaching us through his death,” Reinhart says. “Pat Ward will live on forever. None of us will forget him.”
2-room school to a 2-Time OSU graduate
Raymond Patrick Ward was born Oct. 10, 1936, in Lindsay, Okla. His first eight years of formal education came in a two-room country school where the teachers were his parents, Margaret and R.A. Ward. Because he skipped fifth grade, he was only 16 when he accepted a football scholarship at Murray State College in Tishomingo, Okla.
“A lot of people might look down on us for having gone to a country school, but we got a really good education from our parents,” says Ward’s sister, Louanne Ward Trueblood. “But it would have been really hard for our parents to send him to college if he hadn’t had that scholarship the first two years.”
Ward transferred to OSU, completing a natural science degree in 1958 and a master’s in secondary education the following year. His first employment interview was at East Central, where he was hired to teach chemistry, general science and physics. As the school grew, his focus became solely chemistry.
He saved much of his modest income, empowering him to endow the Patrick, Margaret and R.A. Ward Scholarship Fund. It will provide six awards of more than $2,000 each for OSU students in life and physical sciences.
“He used to buy OSU football season tickets, but then he decided to give that money to the library instead,” Trueblood says. “I didn’t even know he was establishing these scholarships until he passed. I am so happy that he did that and honored our parents this way.”
Laughing students, learning students
Ward ensured his classroom was an entertaining environment. He filled it with unique decorations such as Elom, a scarecrow whose name came from reversing the word mole. The Weird Duck was a drinking bird toy that sat in a different location each day. The Golden Baloney Award was a spray-painted sausage link on a fork mounted on a base.
He wrote a funny or inspirational quote on the board daily. Sometimes they were both, such as, “Ignorance: The only thing more expensive than education.”
He nicknamed students often by rhyming, such as Jodie “Miss Toadie” Larsen Nida. Sometimes they carried a deeper meaning, like his calling Reinhart “Strongheart” in recognition of her determination.
“He always treated his students like he could see how we’d be 10 or 20 years down the road, not the bunch of skinny, long-haired good-for-nothings we were then,” Stewart says. “He treated us like we were going to be something.”
His classroom was a place where incorrect answers were “rewarded” with low-calorie, high-fiber cookies, and the teacher might substitute a broom for his trusty wooden pointer. Pop quizzes became “interrogations” and major exams were “days of judgment.” Those who did well found celebratory cartoons scribbled on their papers. A sleeping student would be jolted awake by Ward jumping at them while wearing strange sunglasses or a tie-dyed lab coat.
“People did not skip his class,” Reinhart says. “You just never knew what was going to happen, or what he was going to set on fire.”
He thought of his students as family, which was why even decades later he could recall their nicknames, names and graduation years — often in that order.
“He never failed to make everyone feel as if they were important,” Nida says. “He attended every class reunion that he knew about, and he was always thrilled to hear what people had been doing for the past 20 or 30 years.”
A special teacher
Many of his students progressively realized how much Ward taught them, and not just by coming in early, staying late and working out new ways to explain lessons.
“In college, I took a tough, weed-out chemistry class and got an ‘A’ using Ward’s notes,” Stewart says. “You think you were just messing around, but he taught us chemistry.”
Reinhart adds, “He taught you how to think deeper and trust yourself. He gave you the tools to figure things out, which helps with all different areas.”
Ward took pride in doing everything he could to prepare students for college success. His letter of recommendation helped Nida earn a scholarship at OSU, where she completed a 1979 accounting degree. After a 15-year accounting career, she became an award-winning suspense novelist.
For more information or to contribute to the Patrick, Margaret and R.A. Ward Scholarship Fund, contact the OSU Foundation's Jana Duffy at 405-945-6705 or jduffy@OSUgiving.com.
She kept in touch with Ward until the end, and helped arrange his memorial according to his wishes. “The Oddfather” had left money and instructions for the “Weird Wake,” which required attendees to wear orange. Cookies were served out of a shiny steel bedpan as beakers bubbled over with orange goo. Ward had kept copies of every reference letter he had written for students, and they were distributed to those who attended.
Trueblood listened as people credited her brother with helping them mature from teenagers into successful adults. She had often seen Ward try to deflect such sentiments even as he was unable to conceal how much they meant to him.
“When people would say things like, ‘You changed my life,’ he always responded, ‘Oh baloney. I was just doing my job,’” Trueblood says. “He saw it as just living his life, but it inspired people. I taught for 15 years, and I know he was doing a lot more than just a job.”