Ward, Vera Bantz, 1922-2014
- Existence: 1922 - 2014
Vera Barbara Bantz was born on February 15, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio to Alwin and Alma Bantz. She began dancing and acting at a young age, strongly encouraged and nurtured by her parents, and performance became a life-long form of expression and employment. Outside of high school, she attended the Schuster Martin School of the Drama to hone her acting skills. Bantz attended the University of Cincinnati for one year, studying liberal arts and acting in the Mummers Guild, where she played the lead roles in You Can’t Take It with You and Our Town. After her freshman year, Bantz transferred to Northwestern University. There she studied drama under the highly acclaimed professor Alvina Krause, joined the Zeta Phi Eta sorority, and regularly wrote and performed for the Northwestern Radio Playshop. At Northwestern, Bantz befriended future husband Donald Ward during an oral interpretation class that they shared. She graduated in the spring of 1943 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech. Donald and Vera became engaged on April 17, 1943, and married on June 10, 1944.
Donald joined the Puppeteers of America after he and Vera developed a deep interest in puppetry. Originally using a single rabbit puppet during a show in which the couple read and acted out comics from the Chicago Sun-Times, their collection of puppets grew larger in time, causing the “cast” of their show to grow as well. The Wards introduced such puppets as “Mr. Announcer,” a penguin; “Captain Crusty,” an old turtle; “Florence Flutterby,” an opera-singing owl; “Buzzer Bulbhead,” a lightbulb puppet; “Clementine,” a spinster crane; and the famous friendly skunk, “Breezy,” who joined the Wards in their televised children’s puppet show Breezy, Don, and Vera, which aired every weekday on WBKB. The couple worked together on Comic Capers during this time. Vera also hosted her own TV talk show on WBKB, A Word from Vera, which was a daily 5-minute human interest talk show, and appeared as Miss April on NBC’s soap opera Hawkins Falls during this era.
Vera Ward maintained a successful and busy career in live theatres throughout her life, acting opposite many well-known performers including David McCallum in the play Alfie, and Cesar Romero in My Three Angels at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1974. Ward also befriended Doris Day, then Doris Kappelhoff, with whom she attended tap dancing classes at Hughes High School. Ward was nominated for the Sarah Siddons Best Actress Award in 1974 for her role in My Three Angels. Ward also acted alongside Vincent Price in the play The Winslow Boy in 1954 at the Salt Creek Summer Theater in Illinois and played the role of Bunny Mitchell in the radio play The Story of Mary Marlin. Within the Chicagoland area, Ward acted in plays as a part of Evanston’s Showcase Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Pheasant Run Playhouse, and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Ward was also a member of the SAG, AFTRA, and EQUITY groups during her career. During her time in the Chicago entertainment scene, she wrote a multitude of play reviews for various women’s clubs, literary guilds, and drama clubs, becoming well-known for her ability to edit down lengthy Broadway plays into hour-long performances of which she would do live dramatic readings. Ward also played roles in two Hallmark films, an Encyclopedia Britannica film on Marie Curie, a Standard Oil film, an American Hospital Association film, and a Home Savings Los Angeles film, as well as performing the voice overs for several films.
When Donald’s ministerial work required the Ward family to relocate, Vera Ward maintained her career as a performer in Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota, and California. In Denver, while her husband served as minister of the Kirk of Bonnie Brae, Vera established “The Church and Arts” program at that church alongside theatre director Jack Booch. For this program, she would produce amateur plays and pageants with other members of the congregation. Her live dramatic readings of plays also were popular and well-received during this time. While in Los Angeles, Ward founded the Commonwealth Theatre, housed in the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, where her husband was minister. She continued writing industriously even after suffering a minor stroke on March 8, 2004.
Vera and Donald Ward raised three children, who also acted occasionally in various plays, sometimes alongside their parents. Vera Ward died in Evanston, Illinois, on May 19, 2014, survived by her children: Vera Margaret “Mari” Ward McCarty, Laura Ann Ward Mollet, and Christopher Donald Ward.