Joe Ward

With wife LouAnn Ward looking on, historian Joe Ward accepts the Baraboo Gem Award from Mayor Mike Palm.

Ben Bromley/News Republic

The latest recipient of the Baraboo Gem Award didn’t have much to say about himself Tuesday. But it worked out fine, because the mayor’s proclamation said it all.

Mayor Mike Palm handed the Gem Award, bestowed upon citizens who make Baraboo a special place to live, to historian Joe Ward. A longtime of chronicler of area history, including the downtown Baraboo business district and his native village of North Freedom, Ward has been instrumental in establishing the Maxwell-Potter Conservancy in the southeastern section of the city. His research resulted in the natural area being named after the Maxwell and Potter families, who helped settle the neighborhood. Ward has produced and donated a historical timeline to be displayed in a park shelter there.

“The city of Baraboo extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Joe for his commitment to our fair city,” Palm said in reading the proclamation during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Upon receiving the award plaque alongside wife LouAnn, Ward introduced his family and vowed to deliver an acceptance speech of only three sentences. “That’s what you like in a historian, someone whose memory is only three sentences long,” he joked.

Ward worked at Flambeau as a tool and die maker before founding Del-Tool in 1965. He retired 30 years later.

In retirement he developed an interest in antique tools, and wrote his first book about a Philadelphia manufacturer. This stoked a passion for historical research, and led him to author a volume on the history of North Freedom. With help from the Sauk County Historical Society, Ward went on to produce an eight-volume set on the history of Baraboo businesses and buildings. In 2007, the Historical Society gave Ward its Canfield Award.

With that and the Gem Award in hand, Ward has secured two of the community’s top prizes. “This is really an honor for me,” Ward said Tuesday.

Although his work requires him to look to the past, Ward is looking forward to tackling a pair of projects. One is adding a ninth volume on Baraboo history. The other is compiling a history of Ochsner Park and its zoo.

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