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October 4, 2023

By Darcy Fargo

Just yards from the entrance to the beach at Camp Guggenheim, there’s a shaded spot where Will Ward once sat enjoying his time at camp. This summer, a gazebo in Will’s memory was placed in that same location.

“It’s a beautiful addition to camp, and it’s in a wonderful spot,” said Mark Ward, Will’s father. “We were able to bring Will to camp a few times – for Family Camp, summer staff reunions and the 40th anniversary celebration. When we saw the location that had been picked for the gazebo, we knew God had a hand in it. We have fond memories and a photo of Will hanging out in that very spot.”

“We envision it being used in so many ways,” added Erin Ward, Will’s mother. “It would allow for outdoor activities on a rainy day at camp, a place for outdoor crafts and workshops. A lot of thoughtfulness went into it. There are benches that can be moved around depending on the needs, and the gazebo has a ramp. The addition of the ramp was important to us. It’s a thoughtful consideration and it’s just one more thing to help make camp accessible to everyone.”

William M. Ward was born with a rare condition, Myotubular Myopathy, a condition typically associated with muscular weakness, including breathing and swallowing difficulties. Will died in 2021 at age 20.

“It affected him pretty profoundly right from the start,” Mark Ward said. “But it was his normal. As our only child, it was our normal, as well. Will relied extensively on supportive technology. A ventilator helped him breathe. He used a wheelchair to get around. He had communication tech. He always took all of it in stride, and he had this amazing, easy-going spirit. Lots of people find cause to complain or feel bad for themselves, but Will was always such a delight, and he was generous with love and joy. He taught us, as his parents and people around him, so much about faith and joy and love of life.”

“He had a strong spiritual life,” Erin Ward said. “He did CCD classes. He went to confession using his communication device. He made his confirmation. St. Jude was the saint he chose because of his devotion to hope in hopeless situations. He was incredibly patient. So many people have told us stories – some of which we didn’t know about – of how Will impacted their lives and their faith journeys. He was like our quiet teacher.”
Will was a fan of the Boston Red Sox and Taylor Swift.

“He loved things kids love,” his mom said.

He also enjoyed time at Camp Guggenheim.

The Wards have a special fondness for Camp Guggenheim. Mark and Erin’s relationship grew after they served together as counselors from 1994-96.

“It’s hard to put into words and hard to overstate the importance of Camp Guggenheim in our journeys,” Mark Ward said. “It was a huge part of our forming us as Catholics and forming us to be a married couple. It’s where we met. The experiences we shared through those three summers on staff – the lives we touched and that touched us, and the lessons learned – continue to hold us and help us many years later.”

Erin Ward said she felt their time at Camp Guggenheim helped prepare them for their future journeys.

“In many ways, it was at camp that planted the seed and oriented our hearts toward service,” she said. “That continued to bloom. And the skills we developed at camp – how we work with people and how we collaborate – served us throughout our lives. We went on to do non-profit work for Will’s rare disease. We incorporated so many skills we developed as counselors. We were blessed that Will was able to experience camp and that there were a lot of opportunities for him to be included.”

Mark and Erin Ward said they’re blessed to maintain contact with people they met at and through Camp Guggenheim. It was some of those connections who came up with the idea and most of the funding to honor Will with the gazebo.

“We weren’t the ones who initiated this,” Erin Ward said. “It was people we know from camp – (Deacon) Jim and Rita Crowley, Calvin Campany, Scott McDonald, Michelle Watkins. We’re very blessed and grateful.”

The gazebo was dedicated August 6, the weekend Mark and Erin Ward celebrated their 25th anniversary.

“It was right before week 6 drop-offs at camp,” Erin Ward said. “A lot of our friends from camp were able to join us, since they were dropping off kids for week 6.”

The Wards reflected on the experience on social media shortly after the dedication.

“(We have) so much gratitude to the current camp staff for accommodating us and joining with us before kicking off your last week of summer camp – you are all amazing,” the Wards wrote. “And our deepest, heartfelt thanks to all our family and friends who gathered, both in person and in spirit, to honor Will in this very special way. Getting a chance to reconnect, share memories, and lots and lots of laughs is always so good for our souls, and a reminder of the friendships that last a lifetime no matter where we all travel, and same place that calls us home.”

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