MONTICELLO — Less than a couple of hours after he was laid to rest, family and friends of Donald W. Ward paid a visit June 4 to a bridge northeast of Monticello that now bears its late designer’s name.
Ward, 86, passed away May 28 after a brief illness. Funeral services and burial took place June 4. His loved ones then returned to the “Donald W. Ward, PE Bridge” — formerly known as the Norway Bridge — that crosses over the Tippecanoe River and lies south of the Norway Dam.
While the bridge took on Ward’s name in perpetuity on Nov. 23, 2020, an official dedication ceremony was postponed because of the COVID-19 health emergency — until June 4 when conditions improved enough to allow for gatherings.
At each end of the bridge, visible to traffic headed east and west, are signs signifying the name change.
“What a fitting tribute to someone who has given so many years to White County and the city of Monticello,” former White County Commissioner John Heimlich said during the small and quick ceremony near the bridge.
Ward designed more than 150 bridges across northern Indiana — particularly in White, Pulaski, Jasper and Tippecanoe counties — but he considered the Norway Bridge his most difficult because of its positioning across the Tippecanoe River and proximity to the dam.
“He was 35 years old when work began on the bridge in 1970, and this was the first major bridge project he designed on his own,” said Melanie Schlegelmilch, Ward’s niece who made the initial renaming proposal to the county commissioners.
When the river flow is high coming through the Norway Dam, it hits the bank and changes the projection of the water, which required the design to have two piers rather than three, she said.
Schlegelmilch said the Norway Bridge was Ward’s “biggest achievement.”
“A testament to his design is the bridge has held firm during extensive flooding,” she said.
Heimlich then told one of his favorite stories about Ward and the bridge, one he also shared during a Nov. 23, 2020, commission meeting. He recalled a flooding incident in 2005 during which river levels rose to a point where “water was lapping up against the bottom of the bridge.”
“You would think water would never get as high as that bridge,” Heimlich said. “There were rumors at the time that the dam was going to give way and the bridge was going to give way. … Don and I went down to Norway Bridge that morning and walked on out. Don said, ‘Ah, nothing’s going to happen with this bridge.’
“I think it is fitting that we renamed Norway (Bridge) after Don.”
Ward, a 1953 graduate of Reynolds High School, earned his degree in civil engineering in 1958 from Purdue University. He served in the National Guard and worked for the Indiana State Highway Department in the mid-1960s.
Ward also worked with his brother-in-law, Dwight Schlegelmilch, who was Monticello’s city engineer from 1967-75.
At the time of its replacement, Norway Bridge was one lane. It took one year to complete the project, during which Ward performed surveying and design work. Local contractors Hornback-Sickler built the bridge, which is 483 feet long, 31 feet wide and includes a 5-foot sidewalk on each side.
He was a member of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers, and as late as 2018 attended continuing education courses to keep his license active. He worked up until last year when he suffered a fall at home and broke several ribs, his niece said.
Ward was acting county engineer from 2004-18 and served on the White County Area Plan Commission for more than 10 years. He was also a past member of Rotary International.
He was widowed in 2016 when his wife of 48 years, Karen Sue (Van Scoyoc) Ward, passed away from cancer. He is survived by three grown sons, Eric N. (wife Sarah), of Cambridge, Mass., John S. (wife Frederique), of Roanoke, Ind., and Donald W. “Bill” (wife Emily), of St Louis. He is also survived by six grandsons and two granddaughters.