Urban Ministries receives $100,000 bequest from longtime volunteer

May. 11, 2014 @ 04:12 PM

Benjamin F. Ward Jr., a Duke University philosophy professor and faculty-in-residence leader who was a dedicated volunteer at Urban Ministries of Durham across two decades, made the largest gift the nonprofit has received from an individual.

Ward died in December at the age of 65, according to Duke Today. He made a $100,000 bequest to the nonprofit Urban Ministries, which runs a shelter, kitchen and food and supply pantry for the homeless.

The gift is expected to be made later this year. Patrice Nelson, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the gift will be used to start an endowment to generate an ongoing income stream for the nonprofit.

“As opposed to us just kind of absorbing it in to next year’s operating expense, or buying one big thing right now, we want to set it up in a way so that for 20 more years, Urban Ministries will benefit from the gift of Ben Ward,” Nelson said.
Nelson said she started as the nonprofit’s executive director in 2009, after Ward became ill. Although she said she didn’t know him well, she did know of his legacy. He volunteered for 20 years averaging about 10 hours per week at the nonprofit. That’s the equivalent of a full-time employee working five years, she said.
According to information from the nonprofit, Ward would help cook dinner and would often play piano while people ate. One night, he enlisted some of his Duke colleagues to dress the tables and serve as waiters at a salmon dinner – his favorite.
As the story goes, Nelson said Ward discovered Urban Ministries after riding his bike by several times. She said she believes he was struck by how many men there were that he felt were like him in some ways, but who also needed a helping hand.
“As he (rode) past Urban Ministries back and forth, he would wonder what was going on, and wonder why there were so many men who seemed to be hanging around,” Nelson said. “One day, he came inside to see what he could do to help them out.”
Lloyd Schmeidler, the former executive director of Urban Ministries from 2002 to 2008, said Ward was one of the most faithful volunteers he encountered. He also said that as a fan of the Durham Bulls baseball team, he would “make sure things were all in order when the Bulls were in town during the summers” so he could catch the games.
“He had a real care and compassion and love for the people that were being served,” he said. “It brought him great joy in my experience.”
Ward was an early leader of Duke’s faculty-in-residence program, according to an article in Duke Today. He had held a similar position at Yale, where he had received his doctorate.
At Duke when he arrived in 1980, he was awarded a position in the philosophy department. He eventually held the position of adjunct associate professor of philosophy and associate dean for faculty programs, according to a faculty database at https://fds.duke.edu/db.
William Griffith, vice president for student affairs emeritus at Duke, said in remarks at Ward’s remembrance service that in addition to being a “challenging, excellent teacher,” he was also a leader in school’s a cappella group the Pitchforks, and as a skilled pianist, he played with the Ciompi Quartet on a number of occasions. According to Duke Today, he played the organ at the 1968 memorial service for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.
“He was an intellect, concert pianist, athlete … and a humanitarian,” Griffith said, according to a recording of his remarks at Ward’s remembrance reception at http://www.benwardtribute.com/reception/.
He had a multi-faceted personality, said Dr. Robert Rosenstein, an optometrist who became a good friend of Ward’s due to an interest classical music. Rosenstein said Ward “worked with people to make them better.”
“He did so much to mentor young people,” he said. “He mentored kids that needed help – not just kids at Duke – (but people who) needed someone to help steer and fine-tune what (they were) doing,” he said. “He was one of those people who got dirt under his fingernails.”