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Ward says goodbye to FBC after 34 years

By By Janet Little Cooper
As parents dropped their children off yesterday morning at First Baptist Church of Atmore preschool, something was different.
The face of long-time director Betty Ward did not greet the children as they hurried in as she had done for the past 34 years.
Ward retired from the preschool Friday, Sept. 1, the same day that her husband Jack retired as well.
"Mrs. Betty didn't want a lot of fan fare about her retirement," FBC secretary Julia Harrison said. "It was a quite and easy changing of the guards. This is truly a new era for our church and the preschool department. She left a very good foundation to build on in every way, from teaching, managing the finances and the reputation of the program. How much better can you do? When you hand someone a foundation like that you have an excellent future ahead."
Ward began working in the church program in the 1960s when the program consisted of nothing but kindergarten classes.
"Mrs. Jesse (Dottie) Wood began the preschool program in 1959," Harrison said. "The program was held in an old house located on the church's property. It started out as a kindergarten and then advanced to morning school and then in 1997 they added the daycare."
Ward worked as both a teacher and the director at FBC for 20 years before moving to California to spend time with her ailing mother. While in California she continued teaching children for 11 years in a church school.
Upon her return to Atmore, Ward was welcomed back as the preschool director with open arms where she remained for 14 years before retiring last week.
Carolyn Hetzel, a former teacher at the preschool remembers when Ward made the move to California and then back to Atmore again.
"I worked with Betty before she moved to California," Hetzel said. "Before she moved she said, 'Now Carolyn, you be here when I get back.' And I was for about a year after that. We were neighbors for 22 years. I couldn't have found a better person to work for or with than Betty. She was so dedicated to that preschool and was fair and supported her teachers 100 percent. We had several directors, myself included, but some people are just gifted for that while others aren't. She taught me a lot."
Hetzel, who worked in the program for 15 years has asked Ward when she was going to retire for some time now.
"I kept asking her when she was going to retire," Hetzel said. "And Betty would always say 'I'm going to stay just one more year.' When she came over to tell me that she had retired, I was so happy for her. I am happy that she has finally decided to turn it over. She is leaving it in good hands. It will be hard for her to leave, but I found out real quick when I left that a lot of people could feel my spot. Betty is just such a loveable person. I have nothing but good things to say about her. I just love her to death."
According to Harrison, Ward hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren and do a little bit of traveling with her husband. And as one might expect she will be seen popping in and out of the children's wing.
"Today was our first day without her and it was different," 14-year preschool employee Cathy Reynolds said. "You get used to the same person coming in everyday and it is hard to come in and not see her. She did come by to see us today, which was nice. She has taught me a lot through the years. Like how to deal with the children and parents effectively. She is a calm person who knew how to step back and look at the entire situation before making a decision. She also taught me how to teach the children in a way that they can learn and enjoy it. I definitely expect her to come around. She is a special lady."
The teachers who are so familiar with Ward's style carried her out to eat last week in honor of her retirement, crying and reminiscing over old times.
Ellen Lowery, who has worked with Ward from the beginning, remembers how she always wanted everything done a certain way.
"She wanted everything done right," Lowery said. "The bulletin boards had to look a certain way and she wanted us all to dress like we were going to church. She wanted everything neat. She has always been a kind, sweet person who stood behind her teachers and the children. She held a daily devotion with the teachers each morning before the day began and then at one time taught 20 three year olds by herself. I don't know how she did it, but she did. She was so good with the children and the parents too."
Teresa Booker of Atmore knows that first hand. She is the mother of three children who were all under Ward's care at the church preschool program.
"My twin girls just left the all day program," Booker said. "They started going when they were 18 months old and are now in Pre-k and before them my son went to the three year old program. We love Mrs. Ward. Anytime my children were out, she always called to check on them. And my children loved her. You know that when you walk in the door and your children run in and grab her by the neck or wrap their legs around her that they are happy and are being taken care of. I think it is going to be sad with her gone. She has been there for such a long time. I know that everyone will miss her."
Tina Francis, who was named as the new director of the weekday program and as minister of children for the church, will now take over Ward's responsibilities that include but are not limited to coordinating the educational curriculum for the program and managing a budget and the center's finances.
As Harrison explained the responsibilities of the job, she was quick to point out that Ward had to be a jack-of-all-trades working as a substitute teacher one day and a maybe a cook the other, but the one thing about her that everyone agreed on was her love for God and children.
"Betty loved teaching children," Harrison said. " She was an expert in teaching kids in phonics and reading. She was also a mother figure to all the teachers. But more importantly she was so biblically sound. She lived her Christian faith. She would never tell you she was perfect. Betty built everything based on biblical principles."
A reception will be held this Sunday, Sept. 10 in Betty Ward's honor in the FBC fellowship hall from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Parents and student's past and present are all encouraged to drop by for a visit.