Once in a blue moon, you catch lightning in a bottle and meet someone who impacts your life in unexpected ways. I was lucky; it happened to me when I had Mr. Pat “Weird” Ward as my chemistry teacher during the 1968-1969 school year at East Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a life-changing experience for me.
Mr. Ward was a unique teacher who made a difficult subject easier by the way he taught his class. On a daily basis, you would see a “quote of the day” on the blackboard. The quotes were designed to challenge your thinking. From there, he would go into the lesson using a variety of techniques especially using a great sense of humor to get the concepts across to the students. It was a class everyone looked forward to daily. His classroom was decorated in a very eccentric way. There was the great god Elom (Mole spelled backwards) and many other displays throughout the room. There is probably not a student around that could not tell you what “I Broke Old Clyde’s Head for Nothing” (acronym for elements) means.
Mr. Ward had different saying such as “Note this”, “Here, here Old Buddy”, “Baloney” and many others. We would chart how many times he used these terms and much like the Olympics, we would hold up a score sheet indicating frequency of use. He got a kick out of that. Classes and students were given nicknames by Mr. Ward. One of his students named Don, he would call Nod. Then there was Bobnoxious, Squirrel, and my favorite Pink Lloyd. It was a badge of honor to have a nickname. Any former student that was given a nickname still treasures it to this day.
My third period class had a Pat Ward Appreciation Day in October (his birthday month) in 1968 and presented him with a wooden plaque with the words “Pat Ward Appreciated Day presented by his 3rd period class” burned into it. A fork was mounted in the middle of the plaque and a real hot dog spray painted gold was placed on top. The hot dog represented the number of times he said, “Baloney.” He kept this plaque for over 20 years and it was affectionately know as the Golden Baloney Award! Years after my graduation, I would periodically visit him at the school, and he would pull the plaque out to show his class. Over time, the hot dog dripped and shrunk, but he kept it.
When I took chemistry, I had “senioritis.” This meant I did not give my best effort for Mr. Ward. Many times over the years I would still apologize to him for showing him”what I couldn’t do instead of what I could do.” I believe it is rare for a student to have so much respect for a teacher. But, Mr. Ward garnered that respect from many.
I have been an educator for almost 38 years and have tried to model my teaching style after Mr. Ward. He is the reason I chose to become a teacher. This is the impact he has had on my life.
To show the esteem his students have for him, there is a website name http://WeirdWard.net. This is a history of the man, his students and the fun times had in his class over the years. It is a wonderful tribute to Mr. Ward.
Mr. Ward is not in a battle with cancer and , as usual, he has handled it with much grace and humor. He underwent an initial chemotherapy session, but it was too much for him to handle. I went for a visit after the last bit of news and was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what to expect. Upon seeing him, he explained everything that has occurred and still gives thanks for the life he has been given. He feels he was privileged to do something he loved so much and to have had the relationships and friendships with his many students over the years. He never appears maudlin or down, and is grateful. Mr. Ward may be out of the classroom, but he is still teaching me.
Mr. Ward was the best teacher I ever had, and I love him dearly. Any of his former students would share the same sentiments. He made everyone feel special. It was this ability that has made him the special one all along.
I am so pleased Mr. Ward will have a brick in his honor at The National Teachers Hall of Fame. He deserved this recognition and more. I have been blessed to have him as a part of my life.
Pete Theban – Class 1969
Fellowship of Heathen Chemists (former students)