Sag Harbor Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley, Brenda Ploeger and Mayor Brian Gilbride with a plaque created in honor of former mayor and veteran John A. Ward, who will be honored at a ceremony at the end of the month.
By Kathryn G. Menu
For long time residents of Sag Harbor, there perhaps are few people who have had such a comprehensive hand in the way the village has been shaped as did John A. Ward.
Ward, who died in March 2012, served on the Sag Harbor Village Board from 1949 to 1971, including a stint as mayor his last two years in public service.
But was also a veteran who made it his mission to celebrate others in service, a volunteer, a business man and lifelong fisherman dedicated to the waterfront.
On Saturday, June 29, Sag Harbor Village will honor Ward by officially renaming the windmill he originally conceived and built with a formal ceremony unveiling a plaque with Ward’s likeness.
“A visionary before his time, builder of the windmill and co-founder of the Whalers’ Festival,” reads the dedication, which was crafted by Ward’s daughter, Brenda Ploeger and her family. “He was instrumental in the opening of the Fire Museum. Mayor, trustee and fire chief of Sag Harbor and a veteran of World War II, he was as much a part of Sag Harbor as Sag Harbor was a part of him.”
The ceremony will welcome all of Ward’s children and grandchildren, as well as government leaders from Sag Harbor Village, East Hampton and Southampton towns, Suffolk County and the State of New York. Mayor Brian Gilbride said he has also invited all the former mayors of Sag Harbor to join in honoring Ward at the event, which will take place at 11 a.m. at Windmill Beach next to the replica of the windmill Ward constructed with a group of volunteers in the 1960s.
A replica of the Beebe Windmill — now located in Bridgehampton but originally a Sag Harbor landmark — Ward constructed the windmill in 1966 as an office for the Old Whalers’ Festival, a festival he founded with John Steinbeck, Bob and Frank Barry and Bob Freidah.
Ploeger, newly married around the time of the windmill’s original construction, remembers the community rallying around the windmill project, her mother, Lois, bringing coffee down to the volunteers who helped her husband construct it.
“My father did a lot of things on handshakes back then,” said Ploeger of the volunteers who came out to support the windmill construction.
Ward died in March of 2012 at the age of 90, nine months before a restoration of the windmill was completed through a fundraising drive launched by the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and aided by Save Sag Harbor. Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley organized the construction last fall, which was completed with the help of Sag Harbor builder Tom O’Donoghue just in time for the village’s annual holiday “Light Up” in December.
At that point — and perhaps always — it was already Ward’s windmill.
In April 2012, at the urging of Sag Harbor resident David Lee, the village board unanimously adopted a resolution to rename the windmill the “John A. Ward Memorial Windmill.”
“I don’t think there was anyone who knew Sag Harbor history like John did,” said Mayor Gilbride. “ He just was Sag Harbor.”
In addition to his years of service, the construction of the windmill and helping to found the Old Whalers’ Festival, Ward also opened the Redwood culvert, planned and built the A & B village docks, assisted in getting the American Legion building built, along with the Fireman’s Museum. Most recently, in 2008 Ward was one of three veterans—– along with George Boziwick and Robert Browngardt — who painstakingly combed through records in order to list the 446 men and women from Sag Harbor, North Haven and Noyac who served in World War II on a plaque at the Marine Park monument.
“He felt Marine Park should be more meaningful for those who went overseas and served in World War II,” said Ploeger. “There were many who didn’t come home.”
It was also, said Ploeger, another gesture — like the windmill — from a man who was born on Bay Street and never wanted anything more than to live in a thriving Sag Harbor.
“This was Daddy’s life, this village,” she said. “He would do anything he could to help it prosper.”
As for the ceremony, Ploeger said it would have been a thrill for Ward.
“He would just have loved it,” she said. “Every minute of it, there is no doubt about that. You could never have gotten him to leave Sag Harbor.”