May 28, 2004 | Betty Jo Ward has sold her last birthday card, knick knack and pack of gum. After 25 years of volunteering with the UAMS Medical Center Gift Shop, the wife of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Emeritus Harry P. Ward, M.D. rang up her last sale May 21.
“I’ve taken my turn, and happily so,” she said.
For the last quarter century, Betty Jo Ward’s name has been synonymous with service to UAMS, mostly through the generous donations made possible by gift shop proceeds. This year she expects the shop, part of the UAMS Medical Center Auxiliary, to contribute $50,000 toward hospital projects that aren’t in department budgets.
“Every inch of this place shows Auxiliary dollars. Our projects have just been endless,” said Ward, who also in May ended her one-year term as Auxiliary president.
Funding has gone for artwork for hospital walls, televisions in patient rooms, an aquarium in a waiting room, the UAMS Family Home and medicine and clothing for patients in need, among other things.
But the gift shop was not always such a moneymaker. When the Wards moved to Little Rock from Denver in 1979 for her husband to become chancellor, the shop was a forlorn-looking section of the student bookstore. Betty Jo Ward knew there was potential, and called on her experience of establishing a gift shop at the University of Colorado Heath Science Center where her husband was dean of the School of Medicine.
The UAMS hospital lobby was due for a makeover, so Ward told her husband, “as long as you’re going to renovate, build us a new shop.” She and several other faculty spouses got together, borrowed $7,000 from the chancellor’s office, and drove to Memphis to buy the initial stock.
The store opened in 1981. It moved to new quarters in 1997 when Ward Tower was built. Ward would spend more than two decades working the counter every Friday. The auxiliary paid the five-year loan off in two years. That first year the gift shop made about $19,000 in profits.
The gift shop pays a manager and assistant manager, but all other staff members are volunteers. There’s no UAMS employee discount, either.
“We’re trying to make money for the hospital, so everybody pays,” she said.
Liz Genz, director of Volunteer Services since 1993, said Ward is an inspiration to her and others.
“She’s from an era where it was a joint thing. Betty Jo and Harry came in here as a team. Anything this Auxiliary has done, she’s been front and center,” Genz said.
Ward said volunteering came naturally.
“My husband was smart enough to see that I could help for free and work to make a difference,” she said.
The Wards grew up in southern Colorado and met in the seventh grade. They were dating by the time they were high school seniors. They married after she earned a music degree from the University of Northern Colorado and he graduated from Princeton University. While her husband was in medical school, Ward taught band and orchestra in the Denver public schools and piano lessons at home. The couple reared five children, who are all grown. Ward continued teaching piano lessons at home until five years ago.
She said it’s time now to move on to other things, such as gardening, needle working, caring for her elderly father and spending time with her husband, who retired as chancellor in 2000.
Ward said she’ll miss the people the most. “You get to know people you wouldn’t ordinarily know. I know every employee here,” she said.