Talented musician, enthusiastic historian, loving wife and devoted mother is how family members remembered Helen Ward, the longtime Glen Ellyn Historical Society member and co-author of "Glen Ellyn: A Community Remembered" who died last week at 94.
"She was very gracious, much a lady in the traditional sense of the word," said Ron Ward, who described his mother as warm, open and loving.
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"Everyone who knew her really loved her," he said.
A Glen Ellyn native, Ward was born Aug. 19, 1918, at 570 Anthony St., in the home her parents purchased from Thomas Hill, one of the village's founders.
An avid historian, Ward's first passion was music. A classically trained mezzo-soprano, she performed in New York and toured the country during the 1930s and '40s, singing with big bands and an ensemble called The Six Lovely Ladies. She sang in the chorus of the Chicago Opera Company, precursor to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and did screen test for Paramount and MGM studios. Later, she served for 20 years as a soloist for Wheaton's First Presbyterian Church.
"She was serious about her singing, but she was not in love with show business," offered Russ Ward, who said his mother turned down studio contracts to marry Donald C. Ward, who died in 2010, the morning of the couple's 65th wedding anniversary.
In a 2000 interview with the Daily Herald, Ward stated she had devoted a great deal of time to taking oral histories from Glen Ellyn residents and preserving newspaper clippings and other memorabilia related to the village's history.
"It was natural for her to gravitate to the historical society. She was a tremendous resource for them," said Russ Ward, adding that his mother donated numerous village photographs taken by her father, as well as memorabilia from ornithologist Benjamin Gault who during his final years rented a room in her parents' home.
Helen and her husband joined the Glen Ellyn Historical Society during the 1970s. At 90 she was still guiding tours at Stacy's Tavern Museum where she served as a docent, Russ Ward said. "She was running up and down the stairs. I said, 'Mom, pick a floor and stay on it.'"
Among her proudest contributions to her community was "Glen Ellyn: A Community Remembered," a comprehensive history published in 1999 and co-authored by Ward and Bob Chambers with Ruth Wright, Bob Luginbill, Virginia Speers and additional help from John Mitchell and Ward's husband, Donald.
"The two of them worked at it almost like a full-time job for seven or eight years," said Russ Ward of the book which spans more than 500 pages and includes 325 photographs. It reportedly sold more than 1,200 of the 3,000 copies printed.
Ward herself estimated that the project took more than 25,000 hours to complete. She told a reporter the best part of the project was making friends and learning even more about the village that had been her lifelong home.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Glen Ellyn History Center, 800 N. Main St., Glen Ellyn. Visitation will be at 1 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. service. For information, call (630) 469-1867.