From an early age, Minerva Ward was independent. She taught her children a world of values.
“Hard work,” said her daughter, Charlene Saunders. “Ethics. Compassion.”
“We do a lot of complaining these days,” said her son, Ty Ward. “She never complained about a lot of stuff. She just went ahead and did it.”
Today, Minerva Ward belongs to an exclusive club – Homeland Center’s centenarians. Born in 1921, she celebrated her 100th birthday this Summer with an outdoor party in Homeland’s beautiful Chet Henry Memorial Pavilion.
Minerva, the oldest of six children, was born in Front Royal, VA. There weren’t many local opportunities, so her father enlisted in the Army. Minerva had her first taste of central Pennsylvania when her father was stationed at the New Cumberland Army Depot, and the family relocated.
At 14, Minerva struck out on her own, moving to Harrisburg to work in a laundromat and do domestic jobs.
“Back in the day, when you were Black, you only went to school to a certain age,” said Ty. “She had to help the family out.”
Minerva found a circle of friends through the Steelton Elks and its marching club. The group held monthly dinners, with Minerva cooking, to raise funds for annual trips to theme parks and vacation spots. There, the group would don their crisp white uniforms and march in local parades.
On her travels, Minerva met her husband, Charles Ward, through friends in Los Angeles. She was in her 40s, but she started a family. Charlene was born in Los Angeles. Ty and their brother Morris were born back east, where Minerva moved to be with family and friends. The family lived for about 10 years in Newark, NJ, before moving back to Harrisburg in 1970.
For many years, Minerva babysat for neighborhood families and ran daycare centers in her home.
“She raised a lot of children,” Charlene says. “Some of them still stay in touch with her. She always had a love for helping other people and watching children.”
Minerva also was active in Harrisburg’s Harris AME Zion Church, serving as an usher and advisory board member, and earning the honored title of “Mother.” Whether it was newspapers or tabloid magazines, she was always reading to keep up with the latest news from her beloved soap operas.
“She’s still watching ‘General Hospital,’” says Charlene.
Minerva instilled a respect for learning in her kids.
“She made sure we stayed in school and studied,” Charlene says. “She exerted the right amount of discipline and control to keep us out of trouble. None of us had any problems with school because we knew mom didn’t tolerate that.”
All three kids finished high school. Ty and Charlene graduated from college, while Morris entered the military.
After a lifetime of hard work, Minerva retired around 1990. She closed out her career in housekeeping with a Harrisburg-area nursing home.
“She did whatever she had to do to take care of us,” Ty recalled.
In retirement, Minerva helped take care of her grandchildren – six total, and now five great-grandchildren. She also had more time to indulge her love of cooking and made dinner for friends and family. Her gumbo was a favorite dish.
“It’s a lot of work, but I do like to make the gumbo,” says Charlene. “I play around with her recipe and Emeril Lagasse’s recipe.”
Minerva came to Homeland Center in early 2021. Ty talked to others and researched the choices in continuing care retirement communities around Harrisburg. Homeland Center emerged as the best place he could find, with its reputation for excellence and personalized care.
Minerva still has a healthy appetite, and she loves Homeland’s food. She and her roommate, who is nearly her age, chat happily. She attends worship services and has bonded with the staff.
“They’ll wash her hair and braid it and put it in a little style,” says Charlene. “She just primps at that point because she loves when they do her hair.”
Minerva’s 100th birthday fell during COVID-19 restrictions and Homeland made sure there was a safe celebration. Ten family and friends attended the outdoor festival, bedecking her in a tiara and sash declaring, “100 & Fabulous.” A proclamation from state Sen. Christopher Gebhard extended congratulations from the Senate of Pennsylvania. Homeland employees sang “Happy Birthday” and presented her with an outsized birthday card. In her room, she was hardly visible behind the flowers sent by well-wishers.
The family is pleased that they found Homeland for their mother.
“They have a good group of volunteers and staff there,” says Charlene. “They take pride in their work.”