Sunny-Side Up!

by Mary Helen Darah

I find it highly therapeutic to stock the food pantry at Sylvania Area Family Services (SAFS), especially during the pandemic. Focusing on expiration dates and keeping my rows of canned goods neat and tidy was and is a welcome reprieve from hearing about rising hospitalization numbers and thinking about my medical frontline daughter’s exposure to it all when she’s at work.

Often, I find myself working next to 85-year-old Richard Ward whose motivation, enthusiasm and organizational skills are beyond comprehension. However, I never knew Richard’s backstory. SAFS volunteers are usually an eclectic mix of former clients wanting to give back, teens, parents, professionals, and everything in between. There is even a professional gambler in the mix. Recently, while walking some items out to the storage area, I asked Richard about his weekend plans. He informed me he was preparing for a Lifelong Learning class at Lourdes University. “Oh,” I said. “That’s great. You are never too old to be a student.” It was then he humbly informed me that he was not a student but the instructor. 

Richard proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover or, in this case, the can by its label. Richard studied Assyriology at the University of Chicago and received a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in ancient history in 1973. “My college work was in biblical studies and Assyriology. My work was primarily Babylonian history. I transferred to the University of Minnesota to teach ancient history. Most of the Ph.D. candidates were there at that time, back in the 60s. I had ten years of teaching experience until 1977 when I began working in property evaluation.” 

It was then that the man whose layout of canned veggies could be considered an art form moved into his next phase of life. “After teaching, I went into profit evaluation for property tax county assessors. I was in St. Paul at the time and I got into computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) and that’s what I did for 40 years,” he explained. “I eventually became the county assessor. I also worked in Memphis doing the same thing for a private company in Missouri before getting a contract with Lucas County in 1993. In 1995 I was asked to go to Russia and complete a property evaluation project. I lived there for a year, which led to a job in South Africa, then Thailand, Poland, and other global locations. I actually made a list of how many countries I’ve been to either for Christian mission works or for property evaluation.” It was tough to pull out of the modest volunteer, but his list of countries is close to forty. 

I had to find out how this academic world traveler ended up implementing pantry protocol. He explained, “I volunteered for nine years at Impact of Hope disaster relief. I would help get things packed to ship to disaster sites in the USA and internationally. Things had slowed there, and I wanted to do something more. Someone suggested SAFS and I contacted them. I actually started helping them with custodial work at first. When they obtained custodial help, I moved to stocking the pantry, filling bags for distribution and unloading trucks.  I have a penchant for safety and organization. Therefore, the first thing I do is get stuff out of the aisles so it’s not dangerous for people to walk through. I still volunteer for the other organization and even drive the forklift for them. I always said when I got old, I wanted to work in a grocery store. SAFS fits my skill set.”

The Sylvanian is thrilled to once again be using his academic skills in Lourdes Lifelong Learning program. “I knew they had this program and called to express my interest in teaching Russian art during 1850-1910. As we talked, she found out what my academic work was, and suggested I do something in ancient history. I will begin ‘What Do You Know About the Ancient New East’ on Feb. 28. It will run through March 21. I’m looking forward to revisiting what I studied so many years ago. Ever since junior high ancient history has fascinated me. I have been interested in that period and its impact on Biblical studies. I will emphasize Babylonian history in the course. I went into the field because I wanted to know more about the background of the Bible. I hope that fascination will reach others.”  

Thankfully Richard will continue his volunteer work at SAFS when he re-enters the world of academia. “I look forward to my Lourdes experience, especially since there are no exams or grades, and my continued work at SAFS,” he said. “Out of all my many works with Christian missions, working at SAFS is my favorite. I guess my dream of being a stock boy when I got older has come to fruition.” 

For information on the educational, engaging social classes available through Lourdes Lifelong Learning call 419-824-3707 or visit

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