By Bart Ward
The Anoka County Historical Society is planning to honor Tom Ward for his many years of service as board member of the historical society at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at the Anoka County History Center and Library, 2135 Third Ave. N., Anoka. Ward died Jan. 29. All are invited to listen to guest speakers and chime in with a few stories of their own.
Former ACHS Executive Director Todd Mahon remembers Ward this way:
“My time in Anoka gave me many friends and memories that I still treasure to this day. My relationship with Tom is one that will always be among the most treasured. I can still bring to mind the sound of his cane tap, tap, tapping as he rounded the corner of the staff area at the Anoka County History Center and Library, on his way to my office. That announcing sound almost always meant I needed to set aside at least the next 20 minutes. That sounds like I am complaining – far from it. My conversations with Tom were often the highlight of the day, despite their unscheduled nature.
“Many of the visits concerned topics for his Anoka County history columns published in the Anoka County Union. If all the stories Tom told me made it to his columns, half of the county would have laughed themselves silly, but the other half may have sued us for libel. I still remember a favorite story he often told about a tennis playing minister who complained about the early morning dew making his balls soggy. That story was probably best left in my office. As you can imagine, Tom’s history columns received the most fan mail.
“But it would be wrong for me to only remember Tom as great storyteller with a keen sense of where to deliver the punch line. He was serious and dedicated to the work of the historical society. He was among the most dependable board members at using his many connections to secure donations and sponsorships for the organization. I never knew Tom during his car sales days, but I’m sure he must have been a heck of a salesman in his auto dealership days. He believed in us and our mission. He showed me that when you believed in what you were selling, the rest was easy.”
According to Peter Turok, president of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce:
“When I started working at the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, Tom came into the office and introduced himself. It became very apparent right away that he had a true love of Anoka and its history. Throughout the time that I knew him, Tom would stop into the office from time to time and we’d talk about Anoka. You could see the twinkle in his eye as he told stories about the businesses that were long gone, but not in his memory. As someone who grew up in Anoka, it was great to hear details about some of the businesses I knew about as a kid. It was even better to hear the history of so many businesses that I didn’t know about.
“In 1998, the chamber started the Anoka Riverfest and Craft Fair. Music was a big part of that event and still is to this day. Tom approached me about the possibility of having a band at the event. That began an 18-year run of the Tom Ward Riverfest Jazz Ensemble Band playing at the Anoka Riverfest. As much as Tom liked to talk about Anoka, I know he loved his music even more. His ensemble always brought big crowds to the Main Music Stage at Riverfest.”
Guest speakers at the event will be Sen. Jim Abeler, Al Pearson, Mike and Greg Clark, and Eldon Miller, with special remarks by Todd Mahon and Pete Turok.