'An interesting, remarkable life': Remembering Pete Ward
Lake Oswego lost one of its most accomplished and public-spirited citizens in March when Pete Ward died at the age of 84. In the 1960s, Pete played major league baseball with the Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. After his playing career ended, Pete coached in the minor leagues. He retired to Lake Oswego, where he opened Pete Ward Travel, a successful travel agency with offices for many years on Boones Ferry Road. Pete was a husband and a dad, a founding member of the Kruse Way Rotary Club and an active member in the Chamber of Commerce. He ran the Pete Ward Baseball Clinics in the offseason and donated all of the proceeds from that enterprise to scholarships for Oregon student-athletes. He lived an interesting, remarkable life.
A childhood in athletics
Sports ran in his blood. Pete was born in 1937 in Montreal. His father, Jimmy Ward, played hockey with the Montreal Maroons/Canadiens in the 1920s and 30s, winning one Stanley Cup in 12 years. After Jimmy's playing career ended, the Portland Eagles invited him to become their coach, which brought the family to Portland. Pete was 8. His older brother Jim followed his father into hockey. Ever independent, Pete broke ranks and chose baseball. He attended Kennedy Grade School and Jefferson High School, graduating in 1955.
He enrolled at the University of Oregon, hoping to play baseball as a Duck. When the needed baseball scholarship did not materialize, he transferred to Lewis and Clark College, which offered financial aid. Originally small of stature, between his junior year in high school and his sophomore year in college, Pete grew 10 inches and developed a muscular physique, with lightning reflexes. He became a capable third baseman and a strong hitter.
In his junior year, the Baltimore Orioles called to offer him a professional contract. From that point forward, he attended classes in the fall and winter terms, but left to play baseball in the spring and summer, working his way up through the Baltimore farm system. He played in Vancouver, British Columbia; Stockton, California; Appleton, Wisconsin; Little Rock, Arkansas; Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Rochester, New York, before getting called up to the Orioles in the summer of 1962. Pete played eight games in Baltimore and showed promise.
Back at Lewis and Clark, Pete met Margaret Huntington, of Vida, Oregon. She was an attractive brunette, majoring in business, who was a cheerleader and active in campus life. They dated for several years before Pete found the courage to propose marriage. He called from a pay phone in Sarasota, Florida. She accepted in a return call from a pay phone in Fred Meyer. They married in November of 1963 at the Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, held their reception in the Manor House at Lewis and Clark, and remained together from that day until his death in March. Margaret was a good fit for Pete. A calm, practical person, she raised their family and created a stable home life, a needed counterbalance to the wandering, almost vagabond existence of a baseball player.
A big league break
The Orioles had Brooks Robinson at third, and that made Pete a tradeable commodity. At the start of the '63 season, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He spent the next seven seasons in Chicago. At first, his career went very well. In the 1963 season, Pete hit 22 home runs and batted .295. He was runner up in voting for American League Rookie of the Year. The following year he hit .285. In 1965, Sports Illustrated planned a story called "The New White Sox: Power for a Pennant," with Pete on the cover. But in the week before the story ran, Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title, and Sports Illustrated put that on the cover instead. The story about the White Sox ran inside.
The family lived in a flat in Canaryville, on the south side of Chicago, almost in the shadow of Comiskey Park, where Pete could walk to work, and where he enjoyed some celebrity. It was a friendly Croatian/Italian community, and years later, after Pete's playing days were over, the Wards were still recognized and welcomed there. They settled into a baseball lifestyle, living from a short-term rental in Florida during spring training, then caravanning back to Chicago for opening day.
In the offseason, Pete needed another job. Players at the time lacked free agency, and did not have a union, and some major league players held second jobs to supplement their income. Pete worked in sales at Meier & Frank, for the Portland Park Bureau, for a Chicago moving company, and for a Chicago detective agency, to mention a few. He earned $8,000 in his rookie year in Chicago — $1,000 of it a bonus for lasting a full season. In his second year he earned $16,000. His salary peaked at $32,000.
In May of 1965, the Wards' first son, Mike, was born. A second son, Tom, arrived in September of 1966.
Also in May of 1965, Pete was injured when the car in which he was riding was rear-ended by another vehicle. Car seats had no head support back then and Pete suffered whiplash. At the time, the injury didn't seem too serious; he didn't even go to the hospital. But he struggled to recover. The injury caused him pain and was later seen as a turning point in his career. Pete played four more seasons with the White Sox, but, despite extensive rehabilitation, which included moving his family to Florida for a warmer climate, he never fully regained his pre-injury form. At the end of the 1969 season, Chicago traded Pete to the Yankees. He played the 1970 season in New York before retiring from baseball as a player.
Back to Oregon, then coaching
When their boys reached school age, the Wards wanted a more stable environment in which to raise their family. In 1970, they returned to Oregon and bought a home in Lake Oswego.
Pete couldn't leave baseball yet. It was his life — the thing at which he excelled above all others, the thing which had brought him name recognition and a good life for his family. He embarked upon a ten-year minor league coaching career, hoping with time to move back into the majors as a manager.
He began in Rochester, New York, back in the farm system of the Baltimore Orioles. After one year, the Yankees hired him away. Pete managed in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; in West Haven, Connecticut; and in Syracuse, New York, moving steadily up from Rookie League to Triple-A. In 1977, with his Syracuse team in contention for a Triple-A championship, Pete found himself in disagreement with the Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner. Pete joined a veritable baseball hall of fame when Steinbrenner fired him.
Temporarily out of work, Pete received a call from his old friend and Yankee teammate, Bobby Cox, who invited him back into the major leagues as a third base coach with the Atlanta Braves. He then had another year with the Chicago White Sox, managing their Triple A team in Des Moines, Iowa.
Pete left home for these jobs on the 1st of March each year and worked until mid-September. Margaret and the boys maintained a home base in Lake Oswego, and joined Pete when school recessed for the summer, renting out their own home while they were away. Though workable, this state of affairs did not please anyone. When the Portland Beavers called to inquire if he would like to manage their team, Pete jumped at the opportunity. He could stay at home with his family. It turned out to be his last year in organized baseball.
Settling in Lake Oswego
Now he came to his crossroads. Would he like to continue on this somewhat quixotic quest, or would he like to move on from baseball and settle down in Lake Oswego with his family, perhaps in an easier line of work? He chose the latter option. He was ready for a change.
His brother and sister-in-law owned a travel agency in Portland, and invited Pete to join them in the sales department. He turned out to be really good at it. He had years of experience in sales and public relations, and had developed skills which worked in travel as well as anywhere else. He was personable, and was willing to attend events, shake hands and meet new people.
After one year, he opened Pete Ward Travel, with offices first on Canyon Way, then on Kruse Way, and finally on Boones Ferry Road, across from Albertsons, at the site of the current Banner Bank. The business flourished, employing 30 people at its peak, and he acquired a new type of recognition in Lake Oswego, as an entrepreneur and community leader. After his clients booked travel, Pete delivered the tickets to their homes, a touch of personal service which they appreciated, and which built loyalty.
At home, Pete and Margaret registered as foster parents, and welcomed two brothers, ages 8 and 9 at the time. The older of the two boys, Steve Anderson, found a home at the Wards and became a third son. He passed through Lake Oswego schools, joined the Navy, attended culinary school, and wound up managing Ivar's Restaurant in Mukilteo, Washington. Steve died from COVID-19 in 2021, at the age of 55, leaving a deep hole for the family which has not healed, and which may never do so.
In the 1990s, the internet arrived, and it took down travel agencies almost as its first order of business. Airlines cut their commissions, eventually to zero. Pete joked that "Delta" stood for "Delta Evidently Loathes Travel Agents." In 2005, he sold his business to a larger firm and breathed a sigh of relief. The industry has gone the way of the buggy whip, and Pete felt lucky to get some value from a sale before it collapsed.
Pete and Margaret became grandparents in 1988. Today they have seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Most of their family lives nearby. Mike is a partner in Pacific Northwest Telco, and has two children. Tom is a longshoreman, working for the Port of Portland, also with two children. In passing, Steve left three children.
In retirement, Pete continued his involvement with the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. He played competitive racquetball until 2018. He took up golf, and was disappointed to discover that his talent for hitting a baseball did not make him a better golfer. A golf ball just sits there, waiting for you to hit it. He never mastered the game, but it introduced him to a new circle of friends.
In 2012, Margaret noticed a decline in Pete's memory. Previously, she could never beat him in gin rummy, but now she won all the time. His driving became erratic, and he sometimes couldn't remember his destination. In 2016, he made a doctor's appointment and received the diagnosis which we all dread: Alzheimer's. The illness progressed, slowly but steadily. Until last year, Pete could be spotted walking daily between his home and the post office, responding to fan mail which he received until the end of his life. In 2021, Margaret placed him in the Memory Unit in The Springs, where he passed his final year. It was a heartbreaking decline for someone so vital. He died on March 16, 2022.
Setting aside his numerous accomplishments, in baseball and outside of it, Pete was first and foremost a people person. He had a very quick wit and is remembered by many for his sense of humor. He enjoyed the banter in the clubhouse, the recognition which he received, and he tried to please everyone — his fans, his friends and family, the players whom he managed, his customers, and almost everyone else whom he encountered in life. He did it out of good-heartedness and a desire to leave the world in a little better shape than he found it, a goal which he accomplished.
He leaves behind Margaret, his wife of 58 years; his younger sister, Gayle; a sister-in-law, Myrle Nugent; two sons, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, the Ward family suggests a donation to the Respite Program at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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