Numbers have always been a big part of Donna Ward’s office. Today, Aug. 31, is the most important of her 30-year career of crunching numbers with Southern and Georgia Baptists.
Thirty years after joining the former Home Mission Board and 22 years after walking into the front office of The Christian Index, Ward figuratively turned off her calculator, processed her last classified ad, and began directing her time to the more important things in life – her family and her church.
As she turned out the lights in her work area at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center – again, figuratively speaking since the high-tech lights turn themselves off – she brought to a close a career serving some of the greatest people she has ever known.
Those people are the unknown heroes who serve in church offices and just make things happen.
Ward has handled more than classified advertising through her Index days. For two decades, she processed classified and display advertising for the print newspaper – full page, half-page, and quarter page ads and even smaller if the purchaser desired. She aimed to please as she customized the size ad to the purchaser’s budget.
She also served as business officer, dealing with budgets to be sure the red ink did not creep into the black ink. And she was the administrative assistant for two editors, William “Bill” Neal III and his successor, J. Gerald Harris.
For the past 22 years at the state paper she commuted from her home in Stockbridge to the state convention’s office on Flowers Drive near Spaghetti Junction, then downtown to the Pinebloom home, and later north to the current headquarters on Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett County. That final drive required an hour in the early morning hours to help her arrive at 6:30 a.m. before rush hour set in, and then between 90 minutes to 2 hours in the afternoon.
Ward has been married for 42 years to husband James, a pastor with a talented career in woodworking. On occasion she has hinted that being a pastors’ wife is another fulltime job that sometimes bleeds over into her “day job.”
She and James serve at Brushy Knob Baptist Church in Stockbridge, where James has been pastor for nearly a dozen years. That’s where she goes for her “weekend job” to teach a Sunday School class for teenagers, direct the children’s church, sing in the adult choir, and, as she says, perform other duties as assigned.
Like the time a music minister resigned at a previous church and she was asked to step into the role, only to realize that the church was in no hurry to find a replacement while she was doing such a great job. But as the saying goes, when you do a good job your reward is to be given more work. And that works just fine for the good folks at Brushy Knob, as well.
“They are already trying to load me up with responsibilities,” she says with chuckle.
Ward began her career in the banking industry in Mableton prior to joining the Home Mission Board in 1988 where she served on the Church Loans and Credit Union teams. She moved across town to The Index in 1996, the year the Olympics came to town. Numbers have been in her blood ever since that first job.
Ward has always enjoyed singing and used that talent to perfection one weekend night in Alabama. That’s when she and her brothers Philip and Michael were invited to a singing where they performed as a team. Before the night was over James, the single pastor at the church, asked her out for dinner and then began his twice-weekly commute from Piedmont, AL to her parent’s home in Dallas. A year later they tied the knot.
Two daughters and seven grandchildren will be welcoming her to retirement this Labor Day Weekend as she embraces the next adventure of her life – being a fulltime grandmother. Her, daughters, Michelle Daniels of Stockbridge and Jennifer Buffington of McDonough, live close enough to have an on-demand sitter, a skill she has already perfected.
Looking back over her Index career she thinks for a minute about what has given her the most joy and talks about the people from one end of the state to the other who have crossed her path. Many times it was just a voice over the long distance telephone lines – well before cell phones. But she was always glad to match that voice with its face as someone would introduce themselves to her at the annual state convention meeting. It was a sort of homecoming of folks who had never actually met before.
Ward is quick to pay tribute to those telephone voices who call for assistance in placing an ad, submitting story ideas, or checking the editor’s calendar for available speaking engagements.
“At The Index we have always excelled at customer service, serving the churches in any way we could. I enjoyed helping those administrative assistants in churches all over the state who would call to place an ad to announce a staff vacancy, pews for free or sale to another church, or a small congregation seeking a piano or organ,” she says.
In many ways The Index is the heart of the Convention. It serves as a clearinghouse for a tremendous amount of information coming out of the churches, both tiny and massive, and being distributed throughout the state through modern internet technology.
Donna Ward has played a key role in that free flow of information. Georgia Baptists will miss her with the same enthusiasm she will be embraced by her family and grandchildren.