Bob Ward says he "saw a need and an opportunity" to help.

Bob Ward has been a service missionary for only three months, but he has already made an impact by helping a stalled project to build a community center in a low-income area get back on course.

In response to the killing of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo, South Parc Townhomes at 2250 S. 500 East in Salt Lake City initiated the building of a center that will include services for refugees. The center-in-progress became an overwhelming task, requiring resources and manpower that they did not have.

In a meeting Ward attended, Juanita Hertero, manager of South Parc Townhomes, listed concerns that would delay the project beyond its anticipated opening in early August. Ward stepped up, volunteering the help of service missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in skills and working boots on the ground.

"I saw a need and an opportunity," Ward said. "And it all fell into place."

Ward now supervises the building of the center, having duties that match well with the long-time handyman.

"I'm a jack of all trades and master of none," Ward said.

Ward, a Southern California native, developed dexterity as a child that included helping his dad lay carpet. Ward later became a professional carpet layer, taking business classes at BYU and "picking the brains" of a former boss who owned a carpet store in Orem. Ward and his wife, Gayla, eventually opened their own company, Ward Discount Carpet in Sandy.

As a teenager in the 1960s, Ward wanted to own a muscle car like his friends were driving. He learned how to restore a car at a friend's gas station, where he tore it apart and put it back together. Tinkering with cars later became a hobby he now enjoys with his daughters. Ward never bought that dream car since his savings went toward a mission, he said, which changed his life beyond his dreams.

Ward was called to the Washington, D.C., mission. At first, he wasn't interested in going on a mission, yet his parents gently nudged him in the right direction. By the end of his mission, he asked his mission president for an extension, which was later denied.

"I learned to love people," Ward said. "The people became family."

Ward was raised in a white middle-class suburb of Vista, Calif. On his mission, however, he mingled with D.C.'s melting pot of race, class and nationality. Although he took Spanish one year in high school and later switched to German, he never heard any foreign language outside the classroom.

One night, Ward and his companion helped a Korean ambassador's sister who was stuck in the middle of an intersection. Cars were honking; she was alone and crying at the side of the car. When the elders approached her, she spoke very little English. They pushed the car out of the street. For an hour, the elders and the crying woman were going in circles — the elders got the car started but the woman killed it, not knowing how to drive a stick shift. So the elders would push the car out of the street, yet again. All the while, all three were trying to understand each other.

His exposure to diversity prepared him well for the service mission he is now serving with his wife: the Inner City Project. The project is based in Salt Lake City where service missionaries help individuals and families to become more self-reliant.

Ward is meeting more families, including refugees from Africa and the Asian countries of Thailand and Myanmar. Ward said that he receives unconditional love from them.

One day, a man from one of Ward's assigned families gave him his Social Security card. With his son translating, the man told Ward that he wanted him to make a copy of it so that the original would be kept safe in the apartment.

"You keep it private," Ward said. "That's for you and you only."

"I know that I can trust you," the dad said in Karren, a Myanmar dialect.

Ward said he does not want to betray their trust and desires to better exemplify the Savior.

"You truly represent the Lord when you're in his service," Ward said.


E-mail: jfrancis@desnews.com