When Rebecca Ward discovered a need for social work student scholarships at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she quickly jumped into action.
Ward, a 1979 graduate of UA Little Rock with a Master of Social Work degree, organized fellow social work alumni into a community advisory board with the goal of creating an endowed scholarship for social work students at the university.
“I came to UA Little Rock, and the first week it snowed and I fell on the ice,” Ward said. “It was an awful beginning, but turned out to be a life-affirming experience after I had just been divorced. The professors were great, and I felt like I got a great education. I wanted to give something back. If you love your university, it’s natural.”
Ward’s philanthropic spirit and desire to help UA Little Rock students are among the reasons she was named the UA Little Rock Alumni Association’s Presidents Award winner. The award is bestowed on individuals with career success and a profound dedication to the university.
Ward will be honored during the UA Little Rock Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration, presented by Baptist Health, at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 12, in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
Her foray into fundraising was a learning process. The advisory committee’s first fundraiser in 2010 earned about $1,500. After six years, the group raised more than $100,000 for social work scholarships.
Ward arrived at UA Little Rock in 1977 at a time of great transition. Having recently divorced, she was the quintessential nontraditional student out to earn an advanced degree and a better career to provide for her young son, Dan Smith.
She had to leave her home in Arkadelphia at 5 a.m. to make it to UA Little Rock for 7 a.m. classes. Although he kept it a secret for many years, her son, who was 9 at the time, used to stand at the window to watch his mother leave for school and ask God to please bring his mother back to him.
“When your mom is a single parent, your mother is your whole world,” said Smith, who is now a dermatologist in Little Rock.
Originally, Ward thought she would become a language teacher. She earned bachelor’s degrees in English and French and completed the educational requirements for teaching certification from Ouachita Baptist University in 1964.
After reading “What Do You Say After You Say Hello” by Eric Berne, she became interested in psychology and social work as a way to help people. She was also inspired by her aunt, Dr. Virginia Boyle, who worked as a clinical psychologist in North Carolina. Ward studied psychology at the University of Central Arkansas before completing a master’s degree in social agency counseling at Henderson State University in 1977.
During her career, Ward worked at Arkansas Children’s Colony, Greater Little Rock Community Mental Health Center, Ouachita Regional Mental Health Center, and several private practices. She has been in private practice with her partner, Howard Turney, the past 10 years. The two think of each other as family and “try to out-nice each other.”
After serving as chair of the School of Social Work Advisory Committee, Ward joined the UA Little Rock Alumni Association board of directors as president from 2010 to 2014. Ward and her fellow board members help oversee hundreds of scholarships for potential and current UA Little Rock students.
Additionally, Ward is a past chair of the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board, Arkansas Hospice, and Thea Foundation. She has also served on the Arkansas Association for Marital and Family Therapists.
She spent 17 years as the therapist on the television show “Good Morning Arkansas,” is a contributor to AY Magazine, and is the author of the 2000 book “How to Stay Married Without Going Crazy.”
Ward is currently writing a book for caregivers inspired by the person she admires most, her husband, Don, who had a stroke in 2015.
“My husband has shown great dignity and perseverance. I look for people who persevere and show grace under pressure,” she said.