Call him a man of all trades. The renaissance man of Jefferson County.
Fairbury Mayor Homer Ward has come full circle in his working career. From doing drafting work for the City of Fairbury while he was in college, to becoming mayor of Fairbury when he was 74-years-old, Ward has made a long lasting impact in the community in a variety of ways.
The 85-year-old has been a part of almost every group or council in the city of Fairbury alongside a wide-ranging resume. He’s served on the Board on Nebraska Diplomats, which he earned the Diplomat of the Year award for in 1992. He served as president of the group in 1988-1989 and was elected to the Fairbury City Council during the ‘60s.
Other boards he served on included the Fairbury Jaycess, the Fairbury Airport Authority, the Fairbury Chamber of Commerce, the Fairbury Hospital Board, and the Fairbury Foundation Board.
Growing up, the lifelong Jefferson County resident imagined a farming life. His dad owned the family farm in Helvey, Nebraska. The plan was to graduate high school then go to college and return to work alongside his dad until he could eventually take it over.
So was becoming a mayor ever a thought?
“If you would have told me that I would have asked you “what have you been smoking,” Ward said. “I never would have anticipated that was going to happen. I never had aspirations about that 40 years ago.”
After 32 years in the banking business, Ward called it a career, but the 74-year-old at the time knew that he still wanted to make an impact in the Fairbury community.
So five years later Ward ran for mayor to accomplish just that. And in 2009, he began his tenure as the Mayor of Fairbury.
“I just felt there was some things going on that needed to be changed. It’s was a little difficult the first four years. Kind of difficult, we had a change. I was reappointing counsel people and now it has smoothed out the last four years weren’t too bad,” he said. “Now we have a new city administrator, he’s been here two years, but he is just absolutely phenomenal.”
One of his proudest accomplishments as mayor is helping bring down nearly 100 dilapidated houses that have helped keep away unwanted characters in the community.
“As the mayor I felt we needed to get rid of these dilapidated houses because that was attracting the type of personnel that we didn’t need in town. It was creating more problem than good. We have gotten rid of probably 90 houses in my nine-year tenure,” he said. “That got rid of those people, hopefully we’ve improved that.”
The Jefferson County native plans to fully retire after his current mayoral term in three years.
“I think this is my last term. I got three years to go yet and I’ll be 88-years-old, that’s old enough. I don’t get around well enough and my hearing is bad,” Ward said “So I think I’ve served the town pretty well.”
Ward first made his way to the Fairbury community in 1955, when he returned from the military and a 16-month stint in South Korea.
Farming was in the fold when he returned, but tough times for his dad’s farm forced him to take another route, though the thought of running his dad’s farm one day never left his mind.
After graduating from Fairbury Junior College and attending Kansas State University, he returned Fairbury and got married in 1958, to his now wife Maxine Ward.
He then got a job with the Rock Island Railroad, which was short lived due to the travel requirements.
So he then entered an industry he thought was stable, had minimal traveling, and had guaranteed longevity in banking.
“I guess I just thought it was a more stable industry. I always liked the banking operation so I got along quite well with it,” Ward said.
In 1964 he got his first banking job with Fairbury State Bank as a teller and he would stay with the same business for the next 32 years.
Ward worked his way up from teller to Executive Vice President of the Fairbury State Bank before all was said and done at his career staple.
After the business was sold he went to work for Union Bank and Trust as the vice president in charge of agriculture before retiring in 2004.
In the meantime, the Fairbury mayor had been waiting for the appropriate time to try and get his dad’s farm back. That time came in 1986, when the land was up for sale at an auction. Many farmers in previous years lost the land due to high interest rates, so Ward took advantage and bought the 80-acre property at a reasonable $400 an acre.
Though the price was good, the shape of the land wasn’t.
So Ward put in endless hours at the property while maintaining his full-time job with the bank. Needless to say, there were many nights with only a few hours of sleep.
“I’d go out on nights after I did my banking and worked on it. There was a railroad track through it and a lot of drainage. It was all highly erodible land and I got it put into CRP,” Ward said. “It was good hunting and I’m a hunter or was a hunter.”
For the next 27 years his sons and him maintained the property – something Ward says his dad, who passed away around the time he bought it back, would have been proud of.
“He’d have never believed what it brought,” he said.
Due to his youngest son moving out of the state and his inability to keep up with the farm on his own, Ward sold the farm in 2012.
He noted that his time farming with his sons was a great experience and by the time he sold it, the value had skyrocketed from the time he bought the property in 1986.
“I did quite well, I bought it on a low and sold it on a high,” Ward said. “Made good money on it. Paid the government some money, but that’s alright.”
After his retirement in 2004, Ward was able to get back to a hobby that he began to love as a child – wood work. 
In the mid to late ‘40s, Ward built his first project as a teenager. He creatively made his own turning lathe out of old engine, some angle irons, and old car hubs.
Over the years Ward did some wood work but with banking work and farm work occupying a majority of each day, there was little down time to spend doing his favorite hobby.
Then came his retirement from banking and Ward did not hesitate to get back to doing what he truly loved. The Fairbury mayor built his own wood shop behind his house 10 years ago and now Ward spends a good portion of his free time making wood bowls and other various decorations.