It was 1950, Ulysses and Frances Ward were newlyweds, and they were out for a walk on a Sunday in their Masury neighborhood. They heard a commotion.
Following the sound, they found a Brookfield Little League game going on by Addison School. They sat down to watch when a man walked over and asked Ward to umpire. When Ward asked the man why he thought he could do the job, the man responded, “’I just saw you play last night at Pine Hollow, so I know you know how to play,’” Ward said. “That’s how I got started.”
What started was his time with Brookfield Little League, where he coached, umpired and/or was league president up until 10 or 12 years ago. In honor of his years of service, a field at Brookfield Township Community Park was named after him, and the Brookfield Warrior Hall of Fame inducted him in 2018 as a contributor.
“I always enjoyed sports all my life, working with the kids,” Ward said.
Sports gets you outside in the fresh air, moving your body, and socializing with other kids, he said.
“To me sports is the best thing for kids, but it’s too bad nowadays, we don’t have enough,” Ward said. “You ride around the neighborhood, how many kids you see out? When we was kids, every vacant lot, we made our own fields and you played and stuff like that.”
Ward, 94, grew up in the Flats section of Sharon, a neighborhood since razed in an urban renewal project. His mom, Ethel, died when he was two, and he was reared by his dad, Sylvester, and the neighborhood.
“Everybody on the block was your mother or your father,” he said, noting that, no matter where he went, somebody had eyes on him.
Ward was still in high school when he was drafted into the army in 1943. Many people told him the army wouldn’t take him because he had been diagnosed with diabetes, which prevented him from playing high school sports, but the army doctors concluded he was not diabetic. He served 29 months in Europe, playing softball when he had the time, and was released in 1945 to return to high school, from which he graduated in 1947.
Frances, the daughter of Carl and Catherine Flemon, lived in Masury, but she and Ward knew each other from church, Ruth African Methodist Episcopal Zion in Sharon.
“I’ve known her since we were kids,” said Ward, whose wife died Jan. 22 at 91, after this interview was conducted. “We were baptized in the same church. We grew up in the church. We known each other all our lives.”
Ward worked 44 years at Shenango Inc. in Sharpsville, and 25 at the former Buhl center in Farrell, where he coached basketball.
Ward also volunteered with Meals on Wheels and the Prince of Peace Center, Farrell, and has received community service honors over the years from the Brookfield trustees, Brookfield Rotary Club, Brookfield Optimist Club, Ruth AME Zion Church, the Buhl Day Committee and the NAACP.
That sense of looking out for each other that existed when Ward was growing up carried over when he and Frances settled on Davis Street in Masury and raised three children.
“It was just about like it is now,” he said of his neighborhood. Neighbors were quick to babysit and look out for each others’ kids.
“It was nice,” Ward said. “Everybody knew everybody.”
promoNowadays, the neighbors look out for him, he said. If he hasn’t been out on his porch for a while, people call and make sure he’s OK, he said.
“Everybody’s friendly,” Ward said. “Your business is your business, but if you need a helping hand it’s there for you. The whole community, I’ve always been involved in something here in the township and I’ve never been treated different from anybody else in all the years. One of the biggest equalizers for life is in sports.”
The community is now full of people he coached or taught at Sunday school.
“Almost every day I run into somebody,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”
It also makes him feel good to see some of those kids become leaders in the community, such as Tim Taylor, Brookfield school’s athletic director; Tim Filipovich, a former Brookfield teacher, principal and school board member; and school Supt. Toby Gibson.
“It makes you feel good that maybe the time you put in with them … you’re not gonna reach them all, regardless who you are, but when they do rise, come to the top, it makes you feel good,” Ward said.
Ward, who has four living and one deceased grandchild, 16 great-grandkids and four great-great-grandkids, said he doesn’t have a formula for a long life – “You got to talk to the big doctor upstairs,” he said – but he has striven to live the life he was taught, one he tried to pass onto the children he encountered over the years.
“All my life, I lead a clean life: I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t run around, I didn’t do nothing like that. That probably had some effect on it. Plus, just in genes, I guess, that’s all.”
Getting around with a walker, Ward doesn’t attend as many youth sports games as he used to.
“I could go,” he said. “A couple of guys would pick me up. You get tired of depending on somebody.”
He gets his socialization hanging out at Jim Logan’s shop in Brookfield Center, or when people stop by to say hello.
“I been blessed. I’m 94 years old, so you figure, at that age, you been blessed.”