Ward was a survivor of the New London school explosion. She was on the bus waiting to go home when the explosion happened, and worked for years later in life to make sure the museum became a reality and the memory of her lost classmates would endure for years to come.
The founder, curator and manager of the museum for many years — including being its biggest cheerleader, marketer and supporter — Ward worked tirelessly to get artifacts, photos and interviews with other survivors for the museum, and all of that work has allowed the tiny restaurant, tea room and museum to keep thriving and to keep the memory of one of the worst disasters in the United States from being forgotten.
With her leadership, and the help of other volunteers on a board of directors, the museum grew from an idea and a dream to its current set up, which sits right across the street from the West Rusk campus and in direct view of the monolith placed there to commemorate the explosion.
She halted her position at the museum about 10 years ago, allowing others to step in a continue the work she started.
Ward was born Dec. 26, 1926 in Tehuacana to Clyde F. and Sallie Catherine Neeley Sealey, attended school in London and graduated there and stayed in the tiny East Texas community to live and work. She served eight years as mayor of the town, retiring in 2008.
She married James Ward, after his return from serving in Italy, Germany and England during World War II. She worked as a Rusk County Deputy Tax Assessor/Collector and bookkeeper for many years.
She was awarded the Yellow Rose of Texas by Gov. Rick Perry in 2004, worked as part of the East Texas Council of Governments for 19 years, was honored as the Overton-New London Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1993 and was given the Walmart American Hometown Leadership Award in 1998 as well as the Historical Tourism Builder Award in 2004.
Services for Ward will be 10 a.m. Thursday at Cottle-Pearson Funeral Home in Overton. She was a longtime member of London Baptist Church where she was a hostess and also went on mission trips with her husband.
Members of the New London community said Ward will be missed for her great leadership qualities, her love of New London and its history and her devotion to making the town a better place to live.
She is survived by her husband of 67 years, James Ward; a daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Philip Worthen of Mount Pleasant; a daughter, Jo Ann Jones of Hallsville; brother and sister-in-law, Travis and Pat Sealey of Longview; sister, Thelma Jo Hays of Tomball; brother-in-law, Freddie Ward and wife Francis of Kilgore; brother-in-law, Horace Ray Ward of Phoenix, Ariz.; sister-in-law, Ann Ward of Henderson; six grandchildren and their spouses, two step-grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, four step-great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren along with many nieces, nephews and friends.