Charlie and Willard Ward celebrate 60 years of marriage

Apr. 23—THOMASVILLE — Charlie and Willard Ward have celebrated some of life's most exciting moments together. From welcoming their seven children into the world to seeing their son Charlie Jr. win the Heisman Award, the couple has been blessed. However, their greatest testament has always been their marriage and love for one another. The couple will celebrate 60 years of marriage on Thursday, April 25, with a drive-by honk and wave parade in front of their home on Heisman Way.

Willard and Charlie met during their sophomore year of college in an introductory education class. Willard admitted she was initially scared of football players, who she described as, "big and husky men," but Charlie was different.

"When I went to FAMU, they would all sit on the side of the wall and say things to the girls as they passed by," Willard said. "I was fearful of being a freshman and not knowing anybody, so I said no football players."

That all changed when Charlie volunteered to be in Willard's library science study.

"Our professor asked for volunteers, and Charlie volunteered him and three other football players to be in my group," Willard recalled. "They were very nice."

During that group, Willard learned Charlie was from Thomasville and a football player, but couldn't believe it.

"We started dating off and on, but our senior year we got serious," Willard said. "He offered me a ring to marry him my senior year of school."

Willard immediately went into wedding-planning mode, explaining she planned her wedding while interning in Tampa.

"I would go home on the weekends and plan because Tampa was only 96 miles from my hometown," she said.

The couple graduated on April 18, before marrying one week later on April 25. After a month of residing with Willard's parents, the newly married couple traveled to the Bahamas for their honeymoon in May.

Upon returning from their honeymoon, Willard was offered a job in Charlie's hometown of Thomasville as a teacher and librarian at Douglass Elementary School.

According to Willard, Charlie also was interviewed for a job, but unfortunately did not get the position. However, he was offered a position in Fitzgerald as a coach.

As a newly married couple, the Wards faced their first test — distance.

Willard moved in with Charlie's parents in Thomasville as she began her teaching and librarian position, while Charlie spent the weekdays in Fitzgerald, before getting to see Willard on the weekends.

While difficult, Willard said the opportunity to live in Thomasville with Charlie's parents allowed her to make friends and experience the town for herself, as she was initially opposed to moving there.

"I didn't think I wanted to live in either of our hometowns," Willard said. "I knew I didn't want to go back to my hometown, because the opportunities were limited there. After moving here without Charlie, I got to know people, including teachers who would drive me to and from school."

After one year of commuting, Charlie got a job in Thomasville, though.

When he returned to Thomasville, Willard had friends and the couple knew this was their forever home.

Since then, the couple have crafted a life many could only dream of. The keys to their success are respect, love, and God, they said.

"We've learned to respect each other as far as we're different," she said. "We don't always agree, but we aren't ever disagreeable to one another. He respects me and the things I want to do and I respect him and his sports world."

However, their main focus has always been on God. Both grew up in the church and said they had to rely on God's provisions to get them through the early days of their marriage when they were only bringing home $400 a month.

"You need to have something that spiritually uplifts you as a couple," Willard said. "I think that has been the glue to our marriage is having God in our lives."

As they reflect on the past 60 years, the Wards thank everyone, especially family members who have molded them into the couple they are today through encouragement and love, and look forward to many more years together.