Boerne Chapter

Native Grown But Widely Loved

By Delmar Cain

By the time this article is printed most of you will know that we no longer have the physical presence of our mentor, teacher and friend, Bill Ward. His death has left many of us with great sadness. For those of you who regularly read his articles, but were not fortunate enough to know him personally, you still have a small but accurate picture of Bill. His articles, filled with youthful wonder, careful research, and generous acknowledgement or compliment for anyone who had given him even a morsel of information on the subject, were simply an extension of his character and give some hint why we are struggling to overcome our sense of loss.

A person in a forest, raising a long stick to measure a bare rock face
Bill Ward Teaching

It would be impossible for anyone, outside his family and with the possible exception of his lifelong-friend, Bill Lindemann, to give a full picture of Bill. But, I have my own particular experience that no doubt is similar to that of tens or even hundreds of people who crossed Bill’s path.

When my wife, Ann, and I moved to Boerne in 2005, I became interested in learning about the birds, trees and plants in the area. When I read the Boerne Star and saw that a birding group met regularly, I attended and first heard the name of Bill Ward from Jan Wrede. Each time I went to the Cibolo Nature Center for a program someone would mention Bill’s name and tell me how interesting he was and what a wonderful teacher he was.

When I finally met Bill in person, I told him that we lived near Cave Without a Name and had a limestone cliff on our property. He became very excited and said that he would like to visit, as he had been studying the geology of the region. Only later did I learn that some of his students and associates had given him the nickname “the Limestone Cowboy”, which he laughingly acknowledged. As soon as I invited him, there he was climbing over rocks as eagerly as a teenager, pointing out formations and plants with honest appreciation and exclaiming: “You have everything here. How did you find this place? We need to have Bill Carr out here on a plant tour, so other people can appreciate this.” And of course, he began to try to teach me about the difference between Glen Rose Formation and the Hensel Formation and where the limestone came from.

After that Bill Ward never missed an opportunity to return and look at birds, plants and rocks. He took samples, measurements and pictures of an interesting fossil he found in the Glen Rose formation, which he later sent to the University of Texas for analysis. With Bill’s help, we identified a new plant specimen, Juda’s Bush (Iresine rhizomatosa), which had not been noted before in the Edwards Plateau. We even caught harvester ants (not without being stung) for a couple of lizards, given to him by a friend. (In addition to these lizards, Bill kept a box turtle for many years, and later confided to me that he had a pet vulture when he was younger.) Regardless of what we were doing, he constantly shared his knowledge and experience as only a great teacher can.

Person outdoors in front of a porous rock face
Bill Ward Teaching

Bill always had a new place to visit or a project that needed his attention. I would regularly get an email that said something similar to: “I have to go to the Medina Garden Nursery to take some seeds to Ernesto. We can get an applejack hamburger and look at plants at Botany Bend. Do you want to go?” And most of the time I would. At each place we went, not only would he be learning, he would also be teaching and encouraging, not just me, but everyone he talked to, in his gracious easy manner.

And I was just one of many who got an invitation from Bill. The next time we talked he might tell me that he had been on a field trip with Bill Carr of the Nature Conservancy, or checking for orchids with botanists, Jason Singhurst or Jackie Poole of the TPWD. The next time I talked to him he would tell me that he had been on the Lende property with Rufus Stephens of the TPWD checking out the grass habitat, or with Patty Leslie-Pasztor, looking for additional stands of Big Red Sage, or with J. W. Pieper, giving geology tours at the Canyon Lake Gorge (researched by Bill) or monitoring the heron rookery, or with Clark Terrell looking for Golden-cheeked Warblers on the Cibolo Canyon property. He always had new information, which created a new project.

In addition he was always available to help others with their projects. He might be helping Carolyn and Stan Walden on a Saturday with the “ligustrum blitz” at the new Boerne Library or weeding the rear demonstration garden at the Cibolo Nature Center, much of which he had planted, or joining Kip Kiphart in counting instars at the Cibolo Nature Center Monarch Research Plot. He would answer Suzanne Young’s request to help unload big-tooth maples at the Agricultural Heritage Museum for a NPSOT project funded by the Lende Foundation, or lead Wilt Shaw and others in monitoring invasive plants on Cibolo Creek. Bill and his wife, Kathy, always volunteered at the Cibolo Nature Center Gala and regularly opened their home for out of town speakers who came to Boerne.

And his teaching never stopped. He regularly held a class on Hill Country geology open to all comers at the Cibolo Nature Center as well as offering geology classes to Master Naturalists throughout the Hill Country. He loved giving a history and plant lesson about the Big Red Sage (Salvia penstemonoides), which is found growing naturally in only a few places in the Hill Country. One of his more recent projects was putting together a program on the first ten years of the Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society, of which he and Kathy were founding members.

And if that is not enough, Bill loved to grow native plants, which he did with uncanny ability from every seed or plant that he could get his hands on. The last seeds I gave to Bill were seeds of the Texas Star (Lindheimera texana), which I had collected last fall on FM 474. Bill did not know that the plant was in the area. He proudly reported recently, that from the seeds that I had given him, he had several plants that were going to be ready for the Mostly Native Plant sale in April. I told him that I was very glad since none of mine had sprouted and at least I could buy one from him.

Bill is no longer with us but fortunately we all have wonderful memories of what a tireless adventurer and great teacher he was. If only we still had the ability to tell him what a wonderful inspiration he was to us all. But since we cannot, some of us will try to keep a small portion of his energy alive by filling this corner with our own thoughts, which in no small part will have some reflection of Bill. At least we will try and for that I can just hear Bill say, “What a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?”

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