By Diana L. Weggler
The Norwich Record | Winter 2020
Seven minutes remained in the fourth quarter of Homecoming’s Little Army-Navy football game. In the president’s box, Eugene Ward—sporting his NU1949 baseball cap, Old Guard medallion, and Partridge Society 3-Star General pin—rose from his seat and belted out a Norwich fight song. It was a song that Ward and his wife, Grace, had sung together after every Homecoming touchdown of the last 66 years. This year, he sang it solo.
Just 10 days earlier, Grace had passed away from cancer. She was a constant companion during her husband’s Norwich experience beginning in 1947, when she would take the train from Sloatsburg to spend weekends accompanying Gene to fraternity parties and football games. One of eleven children, Grace wasn’t able to attend college. “Even though her grades were good enough that she would have qualified for an academic scholarship,” Ward explains.
Which is why, a few years ago, the couple established a scholarship in her name. “Our hope is to make it possible for some young women to attend Norwich, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity,” Ward says.
NU’s evolution to a coeducational institution is only one of many changes Ward, now 91, has witnessed in the 70 years since his graduation. When he entered as a rook in 1945, the Corps was a single battalion of 60 cadets, the stables still housed horses, and fraternities ruled university social life. His sophomore year saw the end of the Army Specialized Training Program and the return of World War II veterans from the classes of 1943, ’44, and ’45—more than a hundred of whom graduated with his class. But change is something Ward embraces. To wit, seeing what’s new on campus is one of the things he “most looks forward to every year.” The other? Seeing old friends. And, of course, watching the football game, too.
Before the game, Ward proudly toured campus with his grandson Jerel, who was there with his father Gregg Ward ’79 on the occasion of the latter’s 40th reunion. “Norwich is his second family—his pride and joy,” Jerel says of his grandfather Gene. “You could see it in what he wanted to talk about, in what he wanted to show us. He made it a point to show me the tank on Sabine Field, which was similar to tanks he commanded in Korea. And we looked in the museum for his Shuttleworth Saber, which he carried as the cadet major his senior year.”
At Saturday night’s Old Guard Dinner in the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier, Jerel sat at his grandfather’s table, where they spent time listening to Bob Crecco ’47, Ken Wright ’49, and others from his grandfather’s era. Jerel says he was struck by the depth of their commitment to Norwich, which seemed to reach beyond financial largesse. “It didn’t feel like they were just giving money,” Jerel remarks. “It was as if they were trying to give others the same kind of Norwich experience they had.”
Back at the football game, Norwich famously kicked a field goal in the final second to defeat Coast Guard. Eugene breathed a huge sigh of relief. He had been looking forward to this Homecoming for at least the last ten years, and it did not disappoint. “It was one of the happiest moments of his life,” Jerel recalls, “but also sad, because Grace wasn’t at his side.”
But Gene offered a wink. “I’m sure she was there.”
Photo: Eugene Ward ’49— Norwich’s oldest living cadet major, the NUCC equivalent of today’s cadet colonel—stops for a photo with current NUCC Regimental Commander Ethan Hagstrom ’20 during Homecoming.
- Photograph courtesy Jerel Ward