DOYLINE – Here’s a math quiz for you: 300 students served a meal every day, 22 days a month for 9 months over 29 years! That’s over 1.7 million meals! Even McDonald’s would be proud! And Gradie Ward, former cafeteria manger at Union Elementary School in Doyline not only served the meals; as cafeteria manager she was the one that had to order the food and manage the recipes and menus! When asked about this astonishing feat, Ward just nodded her head and, with a matter-of-fact smile said, “That was my job, that was what I was hired to do!”
In recognition of her years of service with the Webster Parish School District and her community, Ward is receiving a number of high profile honors for her birthday, May 14, 2016, this year: a message from President Obama, a letter of recognition from Governor Edwards and declarations by the mayors of Shreveport, Minden and Doyline declaring “Gradie Ward Day”.
Born Gradie White, Ward lived in different parts of Northern Louisiana before settling down in Doyline. After starting a family with her husband Louis D. Ward, Sr., which by how included five children, she felt compelled to get a job to help provide for the family. She found herself working as a cafeteria worker at Union Elementary School in association with the Webster Parish School Food Service. She rose to the position of manager during her 29 years of service. Ward has been acknowledged by many local, regional and state organizations for her excellence in performing her duties in the food service field throughout her career, including selection as Manager of the Year.
But Ward doesn’t even consider her years as a cafeteria worker and manager as her greatest accomplishments during her remarkable 84 years on the planet. She clarified, “I’m really most proud of my service to my community, especially to those who had difficulty helping themselves; the sick, the shut in, those that had to overcome challenges they didn’t create.”
A resident of Doyline since 1945, she has been an exceptional and inspirational fixture in the Village of Doyline. Being the mother to eight children gave Ward an insight to what is needed to lay the proper groundwork for successful, meaningful lives. She has been instrumental as a driving force behind the efforts to help her neighboring residents understand their civic and personal duties and responsibilities to their community, their families and to themselves. When asked why she feels it is important to help others, she acknowledges, “There is no better feeling in the world than to watch someone take charge of their own life. I have spent my life trying to explain the basics of what it takes for people to enjoy their lives and take care of their families.”
Through her work in interacting with and educating Doyline residents of all ages, Ward has touched their hearts and lives with talks at many of the neighborhood churches, mixing a call-to-action with humor in communicating the message of service. When asked about some of the messages she has discussed during some of her church talks she pointed out, “I put together a series of topics I call ‘For Our Information’ that I have shared through my talks at church groups. They target the youth of the community, but everyone can benefit. I talk to children, and sometimes they act like they find it hard to believe that an ‘old person’ can identify with what they are going through. But they soon realize the wisdom in my words.”
Her straight-forward, no-nonsense style of candor, humor, and compassion has provided a source of comfort and inspiration throughout her life’s work. She confesses, “I have never been rich with money, but I believe I have a treasure chest of riches in education and being of service to others.”
Ward has been, and continues to be, a tremendous gift to the people of Doyline. And even now with her activities limited, Ward still finds ways to impact her community in positive ways. When asked about continuing to help others the way she always has, she explains, “As long as I have a voice and my telephone still works, I know that there is something I can do to be a part of making my community better. And I keep on keeping on in hopes of hearing the Lord says, ‘Servant, well done.’”
Ward passed away May 5, 2016.