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Vaughn Ward (1939-2001)
Heritage Education Resources, Inc.
The Psalmist wrote, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness" (King James Version 100:2). When Vaughn Ward passed away on December 7, 2001, we can be reassured that the angels welcomed her with thunderous noise.
I had known of Ward since the early 1970s. In the short time I knew Ward in the 1990s, her passion, energy, sincerity, and curiosity proved infectious and heartening.
Ward was born on February 11, 1939, in Clayton, New Mexico, in the northeast part of the state. During her childhood, she also had homes in the piney woods of Timmons, Texas, and Hinton, Oklahoma.
After graduating high school, Ward enrolled in the English program at the University of New Mexico, where she graduated in 1961. She then headed east to teach, explore community life, and meet her life-mate, George. George had been trained as a lawyer, although that was not his passion. Rather, folklore and folksong were. By the time he and Ward married in 1964, their colleague in folksong, Ken Goldstein, suggested they enroll in the folk studies program at Cooperstown, which they did. Ward completed the required coursework for the master's but did not receive the degree. Politics were involved, a subject for another paper on the dynamics of gender in graduate school.
Ward taught English throughout the country, focusing on high school. With each class, she infused folklore into her curriculum, and she made sure that her use of folklore was consonant with school standards wherever she went. Like her predecessor, Dorothy Howard, Ward knew that, in order to have successful programs that utilized nonstandard materials, the program would need to have a connection with the culture of the school.
By 1967, the Wards were settled in the Schenectady area. Ward continued to hone her craft in teaching and writing by enrolling in the Bread Loaf School at Middlebury College (Vermont). Founded in 1920, the Bread Loaf School provided teachers and writers with a progressive perspective—a perfect environment for the ever-thoughtful and curious Ward.
Ward's approach to education and folklore was unique and revolutionary. Her healthy respect for her students enabled them to use English classes to collect folklore at home and in the community, and her understanding of how schools worked enabled her to make connections between school standards and folklore.
She was a revolutionary who wore many hats. Her interest in folk music put her at the forefront of the Fox Hollow Folk Festival. And with her students, she created the Niskayuna Festival, or Nisky Day. Her support of musicians brought her to assist in the founding of Café Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York. Ward's interest in community brought her to found the Adirondack Liar's Club and the currently operating Black Crow Network, which serves tradition bearers as they pursue their heritage.
In her own right, Ward made quite a joyful noise, up until the last day when she and her family ate Indian food and told stories. By the next morning at 6:15 A.M., Ward passed in peace.