Dr. Robert J. Ward, Professor of English, passed away, after a brief illness, on the morning of April 8, 1999.
Bob began his career here at the University of Northern Iowa in 1963 when he was hired to serve as an Assistant Professor of Language, Speech, and Literature. In his thirty-five years at UNI, Bob became the true definition of the "Teacher-Scholar." Through the years, Bob combined his love of teaching with academic scholarship of the highest order, a combination that helped to educate a universe of students who have graduated from the University of Northern Iowa. From the publication of the poem "Lament for Carol Lou Wheeler" in 1959 to his serving as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in Romania in 1985-86 to the publication of "Tending Our Garden" (1996) to the work he was just finishing on the life and poetry of Midwestern poet James Hearst, Dr. Ward demonstrated that he was a truly renaissance individual, one we were all proud to call colleague here in the Department of English Language and Literature.
In his career, Dr. Ward published well over one hundred poems, essays, and scholarly articles. Many of these had as their focus the life and writings of James Hearst. Bob was considered the country's leading authority on Hearst's work, and his contributions in this area have been many. At the same time, Dr. Ward was active as a teacher and scholar internationally through his involvement in the translation of works from other languages into English--and English into other languages. He also published seven books, including Seven Masters of American Poetry, Romania, A Land of Lowering Darkness: Poems of Romania Under Ceausescu's Tyranny, and Poems For Our Winter Seasons. In addition, his honors and awards ranged from a Ford Foundation Study Grant on India, an NEH Summer Fellowship at Stanford University, stints as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer, and several awards for his own poetry.
In addition to his teaching and scholarly achievements, Dr. Ward always made time for his students away from the regular classroom setting. He was advisor for a host of student clubs and organizations and even served as faculty advisor for the UNI Judo Club. He gave tirelessly of himself to all who asked for his advice and counsel. As a matter of fact, even after his retirement from regular teaching duties in 1997, Dr. Ward continued to serve as an Assistant Department Head in the Department of English, offering his vast wisdom and knowledge to a vibrant and growing department.
What all of us will most carry in our hearts about Dr. Ward was probably summed up best by one of his former students. The student said, "Dr. Ward taught me a lot about literature, but that wasn't what I took from the classroom. His energy, his enthusiasm, his love for life rubbed off on me, and I left that class feeling that there wasn't a thing in this world that I couldn't do if I put my mind to it." That is what Dr. Robert J. Ward meant to all of us--and why his legacy will live on through the lives of the thousands of students, colleagues, and friends who were graced by his presence.
Below is a copy of the last poem Bob wrote. It is very personal in nature, but his family has given permission for it to be printed here. It will speak for itself--and for Bob.
The Rich Harvest of Our Love
Robert J. Ward
They were both born in the smokey rubber tire
town of Akron, Ohio, both children
of poor parents, in those dark depression years.
They both joined the navy in World War II.
Later, thanks to the GI bill, they both went to the University of Akron.
Catherine and Robert then met.
But it would take three more years
of growing closeness, of letting love bloom,
before we would become engaged. Then we
married on less than "a wing and a prayer"
because the long hard years lay ahead of us.
But our love for each other and for
our good and devoted son and daughter
saw us through those lean years
lacking in so many things except our love.
Now, after more than four decades, our tree of love
has flowered into our son, daughter, son-in-law,
a tall grandson and two loving granddaughters.
And now we find our lives so rich and
growing richer as we all continue to reap
again and again the bountiful and beautiful
harvests of so many years of so much love.